How To Help

To contribute to the Ranken Jordan junior golf program or to ask any questions please e-mail me at This blog is not affiliated with Ranken Jordan. The views expressed on this blog are those of the author and not those of Ranken Jordan. Thank you for reading!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Oh What a Night

"The legacy that Ranken Jordan is putting together is a legacy of changing and saving lives and that's a team I want to be a part of."

This quote came from St. Louis Cardinals Manager and Ranken Jordan Board Member Mike Matheny during his speech at Ranken Jordan's recent Crystal Ball Gala.  During the night, speeches from CEO Lauri Tanner, Chief Medial Officer Dr. Nick Holekamp, and Mike, were all very moving, touching, and inspirational.  The speeches were accompanied by a slideshow of pictures of kids at Ranken Jordan as well as a video of the night's guest of honor, Tracy McMahon.  On this special night the ballroom at the Ritz-Carlton in Clayton, Missouri, was filled with hundreds of giving people with one shared passion:  helping medically complex children complete the journey from hospital to home.

Mike Matheny & Tracy McMahon

In a way that only he can, Dr. Holekamp shared the story of how Tracy came to Ranken Jordan following a horrific automobile accident.  This accident claimed the life of Tracy's father and given the injuries, should have taken Tracy's as well.  Fortunately it did not.  The accident left Tracy many injuries, including a torn aorta and spinal cord injury that left him unable to walk, that he attacked with an incredible determination.  While at Ranken Jordan Tracy always joined us for golf and because of his background playing hockey quickly picked up the game.  I watched in awe as Tracy would hit driver after driver long and straight only to be followed by a display of finesse with the wedge that might give Phil Mickelson a challenge!  Before Ranken Jordan Tracy had never touched a golf club yet in a few short weeks he looked like he had been playing his entire life.  From the short time I spent with Tracy in the golf clinics I developed a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for this young man.  However that respect and admiration grew by leaps and bounds when I saw the video shown during the Gala.  In that video they showed what can happen when you combine a hard-working patient with dogged determination and a group of medical professionals and therapists who are innovative, creative, passionate, and the best in the business.  When those things are combined you watch a young man who would never walk again get out of his wheelchair and walk.

Tracy getting ready to launch another tee shot with his U.S. Kids Golf driver

A couple of days after the Gala I received Ranken Jordan's annual report in the mail.  It is not just financial statements and numbers that all seem to run together on the pages.  Rather it contains stories of patients, volunteers, and a letter from Lauri Tanner.  Her letter put an exclamation point on the Gala, exactly what it is that Ranken Jordan does, and why the facility is so critically important.  After re-reading it for about the 10th time I asked for, and received, her permission to post a portion of it on this blog:

"When you see a child for the first time after coming out of a coma, it's magical.  When you see a preemie smile who has had to face obstacles in a few short months that most people won't face in the course of a lifetime, it's transformative.

One of our breakthrough understandings at Ranken Jordan is this:  Smiling is healing.

As a Pediatric Bridge Hospital, we take care of kids who face the most complex medical challenges imaginable in their journeys from acute care to home.  Building these bridges that will get kids home to their families requires a passionately dedicated team along with technology to construct something entirely new and tailored to each child's situation.

Yet for these kids, as for all children, the opportunity to learn and play and experience love, curiosity, delight, and laughter, helps them grow and thrive to reach their unique potential.

By getting kids out of  bed and back to being kids, our Care Beyond the Bedside model makes more recovery possible.  The kids' smiles are both a result of healing and a catalyst for more as they continue their journeys home and beyond to their best lives with their families.

Ranken Jordan has a profound presence in people's lives regardless of their connection.  If you spend any time at all here, it will change your life.

It's about giving hope to kids and families who feel hope is lost.

It's about the power of love and connection.

It's about being able to do impossible things.

It's about living when you think your life is over.

People tell me all the time they come for a tour and leave different people."

Every word Lauri wrote is 100% accurate.  Those of you who have been there understand the healing powers and magic contained in every smile.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Just A "Normal" Day of Golf

It has been a while since my last blog post and as I sat down at my computer to start writing a familiar thing happened.  Nothing.  Far too often when I attempt to start composing a post I stare at a blank screen as story after story about the kids at Ranken Jordan circles around in my mind.  Even with the number of posts I have written and the number of stories already told there are countless more stories waiting to escape my simple brain.  To try and kick-start the writing process I did a Google search for quotes relating to golf being the game of a lifetime.  Although not specific to golf, in the results a very appropriate picture appeared:

Yes, those who know me best will find it hard to believe that I used a quote somewhat related to golf that did not come from Carl Spackler or Ty Webb.  However when I saw this I thought it applied quite well to the golf program at Ranken Jordan.  Obviously having a golf program in a pediatric hospital for medically complex children there are a myriad of obstacles that the kids are faced with.  Of course there are doubters out there who do not believe that a program like this is possible.  Throughout the almost 4 years since the program started I certainly have made mistakes and I am sure I will make more in the future.  One thing that makes me very proud about the program is the hard work put in by the junior golfers and the enjoyment they get from the game.

That hard work and enjoyment was evident at our most recent clinic along with some of the obstacles.  In this particular clinic two of our most avid junior golfers were practicing at adjacent spots in Warner's Corner.  I spent the first half of our session working with an amazing young man named Mikey.  I do not believe any of our junior golfers enjoy their time playing and practicing more than Mikey does.  To say he is a huge sports fan is a gross understatement.  Want to know anything about the St. Louis Cardinals, Blues, Rams, or Mizzou Tigers?  Just ask him.  With his love of sports he always looks forward to "Golf Day" at Ranken Jordan.  On this particular day we were working with Mikey on his driver.  Every week our focus with Mikey is on his grip.  Once his left hand and fingers are relaxed enough to get a good grip, we place our hand over his to lightly hold his grip in place, and start hitting golf balls.  On this particular day he looked like he was getting ready for a tournament!  Driver after drive was sent sailing long and straight until the golf balls bounced off the windows.  There was no chance anybody was going to get the smile off his face anytime soon!

Mikey T. working on his putting stroke

The remainder of the clinic I spent with a young man who had joined our group for several holes during the annual Ranken Jordan golf tournament this past July.  If you want to see a junior golfer generate some ball speed off the driver watch him for a few minutes!  Moving between these two stations was a perfect example of how we as instructors need to be able to adapt quickly when working with the kids.  For the first part of the session I was going hand-over-hand with the student I was helping and focusing simply on the grip.  In the second half I was helping a junior golfer do a little bit better job with his weight transfer so he could hit the ball more consistently.  He picked up on what he needed to improve almost instantly and was quickly sending golf balls rocketing off the windows.

At Ranken Jordan the hard work that the junior golfers put in is in multiple areas.  All of them who come to the golf clinics enjoy the game, love to practice, and want to get better.  Quite often you will see them practicing in between clinics after they have convinced the therapists to get out the golf equipment.  But the bulk of their hard work (and most important hard work) comes in their therapy sessions.  This is one of the reasons that introducing the kids to golf has proved to be so beneficial to them.  Several times I have heard from the kids or their parents that they have noticed physical therapy improves their golf and golf makes them want to work harder in therapy.  After watching these two junior golfers during this clinic it showed once again how golf is a healing tool.  The physical improvements were evident and celebrated but the ear-to-ear smiles were what lit up Warner's Corner brighter than the sunshine could.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Improving Lives With Golf

The game of golf gives back in a myriad of ways.  For individuals it can be a relaxation tool, healing tool, or something to satisfy their competitive drive.  Companies use the game to reward employees through tournaments (usually equates to a paid day off) or providing golf trips as incentives.  One of the most visible ways golf gives back is through charitable contributions.  These contributions come from a wide variety of angles.  Some charities use golf as a way to raise money through fundraising tournaments and the accompanying auctions.  Other charities are focused on golf and what it can do for those involved with the game.  A perfect example of this is PGA Professional Jim Estes and his Salute Military Golf Association (

At Ranken Jordan the golf program is used multiple ways.  As I regularly discuss on this blog it is obviously a healing tool for the kids.  Whether the game is incorporated into their actual therapy, it is a reward for completing their therapy or schoolwork, or it is simply a fun diversion for the kids while they're at the hospital, the game helps them get better.  Golf is also used to help raise awareness of the hospital and the incredible work done there.  What better way to illustrate their "care beyond the bedside" model than to talk about and show pictures of the kids playing golf?!?!

Yesterday on SiriusXM PGA Tour radio, Will Haskett ( focused 2 hours of his show on giving through golf.  During his show he was kind enough to mention the junior golf program at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital.  Stealing Will's idea, I want to highlight a few different charities or events that use golf to do incredible work.

Folds of Honor Foundation (  When you stand together with Major Dan Rooney, Major Ed Pulido, and the entire Folds of Honor Family, you help provide scholarships and assistance to the spouses and children of those killed or disabled in service to America.

PGA REACH (  Founded locally by the Gateway PGA Foundation, the PGA of America, and the St. Louis golf community, PGA REACH secures, supports, and extends the reach of proven local organizations which offer focused activities to youth in the St. Louis area.

Brian Gay Invitational (  The Brian Gay Invitational presented by Diamond Resorts International® is a best in class celebrity/amateur golf tournament that returned to Mystic Dunes Resort & Golf Club in Celebration, Florida on December 12-14, 2014.  Last Year $410,000 was raised for The Walt Disney Pavilion at the Florida Hospital for Children (FHFC) in Orlando, Florida to support the hospital in its vital life-saving mission.

Birdies for the Brave (  Birdies for the Brave was originally created in 2006 by PGA TOUR player, Phil Mickelson, and his wife, Amy, to support combat-wounded veterans.  The PGA TOUR subsequently adopted the program, and expanded it to include a wide variety of military outreach and appreciation activities during PGA TOUR events, as well as a seriers of fundraising events conducted at the PGA TOUR’s Tournament Players Clubs (TPCs) and partner courses across the nation – an effort that has raised more than $11 million for non-profit military homefront groups that are supported by PGA TOUR players, which provide direct support to military members, veterans, and their families ranging from financial aid, rehabilitation services, counseling and housing to educational scholarships and career development.

Hi5 Sports (   Hi5 Sports is based in Clifton Park N.Y. and provides an environment which allows people with special needs to build self-esteem, confidence, and friendships through sports by providing opportunities to socialize, compete, and exercise both their motor and life skills.

The First Tee (   The First Tee is an international youth development organization introducing the game of golf and its inherent values to young people. Through after school and in school programs, they help shape the lives of young people from all walks of life by reinforcing values like integrity, respect and perseverance through the game of golf. 

Obviously these charities are a very small sampling of ways golf can and does give back.  The PGA Tour alone has raised in excess of $2 billion for charity.  Chances are any charity or cause that is close to your heart has been helped in some way by the game of golf.  When I repeatedly say in various posts on this blog that golf improves lives and is a healing tool, these charities are prime examples of that.  The game heals in many ways and touches lives in ways that many would not suspect.  As you are making your New Year's resolutions why not include one that has you getting more involved with a charitable golf tournament or event.  After all, there are worse ways to spend a day than at a golf course enjoying the sunshine and helping others at the same time!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Skipping the Mall

It is that time of year again when everybody starts rushing around frantically trying to find the perfect present for each person on their holiday shopping list.  Go anywhere near a shopping mall and you are certain to hear the joyous sounds of the season:  car horns blaring, tires screeching, and the angry yelling of words not suitable for this blog.  Occasionally you will see a different response when someone steals a parking spot or takes the last hot item off the shelf as a shopper will offer a one-finger salute to the other shopper proving just how much they care about the other person.  Every year many people promise themselves that they will avoid these situations, not deal with the crowds the following year, and will get their shopping done early.  the next thing they know Thanksgiving is here and they have yet to begin even thinking about who will get what gift.

Even though my mind is constantly in motion trying to come up with ways to improve the junior golf program at Ranken Jordan, it really kicks into another gear (no comments from the peanut gallery, please) during the holiday season.  Given that the average length of stay at Ranken Jordan is approximately 42 days we have our "regular" junior golfers who always make it for golf every Wednesday morning.  During the winter months we have even added an additional day each week and these "regulars" happily make it to the lesson tee on Saturday mornings as well.  In spending time with the kids on multiple days every week it becomes very clear that many of the kids would like to continue playing golf when the leave the hospital and go home.  Through our golf program they have been introduced to and shown a sport that they can play and enjoy while at the same time benefit therapeutically.  The question becomes how do we make it possible for the kids to keep playing golf when they go home?

One thing that golf professionals are good at doing is networking amongst our peers.  Our advice is constantly sought from members or regular players about where they should go on their next golf trip or what would be a good course to play on a business trip.  It always helps when we can pick up the phone and call a fellow PGA Professional and make planning a bit easier for the golfer asking our advice.  This is also a way that I keep our junior golfers playing when they leave the hospital.  Those who are interested in continuing to develop their games are put in touch with a local PGA Professional who will gladly provide instruction and help the junior golfer to the best of their ability.  However we also have some kids who will have great difficulty getting to a local golf course to continue playing.  How do we keep a club in their hands and a smile on their face after they go home?  Many of the kids will go home with a putter, indoor putting green, and golf balls, so they can at least work on their putting stroke anytime they want to.  During this holiday season do you want to give a gift that is guaranteed to not be returned and accepted with an ear-to-ear smile?  It can certainly happen.  Use the e-mail address at the top of the page to contact me and I will tell you how you can do just that.

While I am always grateful beyond words to be able to teach golf to the kids at Ranken Jordan on a weekly basis, it becomes even more special at this time of year.  Having the opportunity to put a smile on their face during the holiday season is a very special feeling.  Throughout the year I will occasionally get e-mails or text messages from our junior golfers after they go home saying "thank you" or letting me know how they are doing with golf.  Oftentimes as I read their words or watch the thank you video that has been texted to me I have to close the door to my office until the tears dry up.  It is truly amazing what can be done with a stick, a ball, and a cup.  As I mentioned above, should you want to learn more about how you can help provide so much happiness to our junior golfers, e-mail me at  Trust me when I tell you there is no greater feeling than helping a child achieve that level of pure joy that we see so often in our junior golf program.  To quote my late mother's favorite song, "Thank God for Kids."

Monday, November 24, 2014

Forget the Wheelchair

People everywhere have a tendency to consistently revisit those things that bring joy to their life and a smile to their face.  Anyone who gets in the car with me knows this to be true when it comes to music and I would much rather listen to Jimmy Buffett or Styx instead of current music.  As for movies oftentimes people would prefer watching something they've seen in the past that they know to be a great movie (Caddyshack, Major League, Rocky, Cannonball Run, Shawshank Redemption, etc.) rather than take a chance on a current release not living up to the hype.  Anytime I turn on the TV I am either watching sports or looking for reruns of M*A*S*H or Mork & Mindy.

And so it goes at times with this blog.  I readily admit that I have a great tendency to tell similar stories or revisit similar topics on a regular basis.  But you know what, telling similar stories involving different kids at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital never gets old and always brings a smile to my face.  This past week during our regular golf clinic we had another one of those situations that I will talk about on a regular basis.  Whenever I am speaking to a group and telling these stories I typically wind up with sweaty eyes.  During our most recent clinic we had a great turnout of 8 kids.  One of our junior golfers was participating in her second clinic . . . and swinging a golf club for only the second time in her life.  Considering the week prior was her first time picking up a golf club I was blown away watching her hit driver after driver dead straight.  She kept trying to find just the right angle to lean in her wheelchair so she could get the best launch on her tee shots.  But as impressed as I was with her consistency with her tee shots, I had no idea that it was about to get even better.

As this young lady kept swinging away I would occasionally ask her if she needed a break, as we do with all of the kids.  Whether in a hospital or not, it does not do any golfer any good to keep hitting once fatigue has set in.  Everybody needs an occasional break so we always make sure to ask regularly if the kids need to get a drink and relax for a minute.  Her response the next time I asked grabbed my attention and is why I like telling these stories as often as possible.  She looked first at her mom and then at her therapist and said, "I want to stand up to hit golf balls."  Considering that is part of her actual therapy program her therapist was all for it.  Just a few minutes later we had changed drivers, going to a longer one to accommodate her standing versus in the wheelchair, and she went right back to hitting the driver dead straight off the windows!  All I could do was smile and keep teeing up golf balls for her as I was absolutely speechless.

Spending time with the kids every week at Ranken Jordan is a very important part of my life and something I look forward to each week.  When something like this happens it underscores how important golf can be in the lives of the kids there.  This past week we had several new golfers, kids who likely never dreamed of swinging a golf club, and all of them were hitting golf balls and smiling.  Then we see this young lady go from her wheelchair to standing while hitting golf balls and it adds an exclamation point to what has already been a great day.  One of my constant mantras that I repeat over and over is "golf is improving the lives of these kids" and this is another prime example of that happening.  Hearing this young lady ask for help to get out of her wheelchair and then stand to hit golf balls is another poignant reminder of why I  feel so very fortunate to have the opportunity to spend so much time at Ranken Jordan.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Venturing Back Outside the Box

A quick Google search on the overall health of the game and industry of golf would make you believe that golf is on the verge of the same fate the dinosaurs saw.  Plenty of articles document that people do not have the time to play a round of golf, that golf is too expensive, or it is just not cool enough for kids to want to learn how to play.  Other articles discuss the declining sales in equipment or mention how the poor play and injuries of Tiger Woods are killing TV ratings.  Still other articles talk about how stock for publicly traded golf companies is being shorted at a much higher rate than just a few months ago.  Rather than hold forecasters and buyers accountable, Edward Stack, CEO of a major sporting goods chain (I refuse to mention their name) elected to fire more than 500 PGA Professionals because declining golf sales had not been anticipated and his company saw significant losses in their golf division.  No matter where you look it seems that Forbes, Time, Money, CNBC, and others have all but written off the game of golf.

Even with all the supporting documentation out there about the decline in golf I tend to disagree with a vast majority of it.  What many of the articles fail to address is the fact that during the golf boom of the mid to late 1990s most markets were overbuilt creating crazy golf hole per capita ratios.  It seems that what is happening now is more of a market correction.  That is not to say that golf is not on a decline but I do not believe it is as desperate of a situation as many "experts" make it out to be.  I can only speak specifically for the one golf course I work at, but this year our total rounds, revenue, and merchandise sales all increased significantly over the previous 5 years.  All of this leads into one of the major focal points of next week's PGA Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana.

New PGA President Derek Sprague, PGA, offering swing advice at Ranken Jordan

At that annual meeting there will be a wide variety of topics discussed with many of them focusing on the growth of the game and industry.  One of the candidates for PGA Secretary, Russ Libby, PGA, has created multiple videos about his ideas for growing the game around the country.  This allows me to finally get to my point of this blog post and one that I have discussed in the past.  Sometimes growing the game of golf needs to be looked at with a fresh set of eyes and a very wide open mind.  In recent years we have had programs rolled out that include encouraging players to play 9 holes instead of 18, courses to cut larger cups on the greens, or offering affordable small group instruction designed to get new players interested in the game.  All of these are important in the overall growth of golf and keeping new players coming into the game.  However I will offer up a different idea for growing the game and I am certain everyone reading this knows what that is.

It is time for people involved with golf to really think outside the box and find new avenues to travel down to locate new golfers.  We cannot sit back and wait for people to come to the game; sometimes we have to take the game to them.  At Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, we do that on a weekly basis.  While kids are at this unique hospital making the transition from hospital to home, they are introduced to golf and shown that they can play the game regardless of the medical situation they are facing.  In any other setting, even at many other hospitals, these kids would be told they had no chance of ever playing golf.  We prove that thought process completely wrong.  Kids restricted to their hospital beds, in wheelchairs, using walkers, or with limited use of extremities are all hitting golf balls, sinking putts, smiling, and enjoying the game every week.  Since May 10, 2011, over 2,200 kids have been introduced to golf in this way with many of them continuing to play after leaving the hospital.  Not only have the kids kept playing, but family members, doctors, nurses, therapists, staff, board members, etc., have also learned to play or started playing more golf.  Each week we are simultaneously improving the lives of these junior golfers and growing the game.  I am slightly (ok, highly) biased but I feel that this is a "win-win" situation for everyone involved.

Golf programs like the one I started at Ranken Jordan do many things.  From a golf perspective it introduces the game to a group of people who otherwise would not have had the opportunity to learn how to play.  It also shows those who already play how the game can be used for a much greater benefit than the recreational, social, or competitive benefits they receive from their regular games.  In the setting at Ranken Jordan golf is improving the lives of these amazing kids.  This is where the "win-win" situation I previously mentioned comes into play and the simultaneous benefit of brightening lives and growing the game.  As PGA Professionals, any time we have the opportunity to grow the game and improve someone's life we have to do it.  With great conviction I will tell anyone who asks that there is nothing I do regularly on a weekly basis that means more to me than spending time with the kids at Ranken Jordan showing them how golf can be a part of their lives.  I encourage (and challenge) anyone, inside or outside of golf, who would like to get involved with improving lives and growing the game to contact me.  I guarantee you will never regret it.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Unique Goal Setting

42.  To a lot of people that number may not have any significance but to sports fans it can have several meanings.  For many sports fans it means one person:  Jackie Robinson and all the positive changes he brought to the world, not just sports.  Others may think back fondly to Mariano Rivera trotting in from the bullpen as Metallica's "Enter Sandman" blasts from the public address system.  A basketball fan may be reminded of the days of Scott Williams wearing #42 for the Chicago Bulls while he was winning NBA Championships alongside another former University of North Carolina Tar Heels player.  At Ranken Jordan the number 42 has a different meaning.  That number represents the approximate average length of stay of a patient.

Think about that for a minute.  Forty-two days in a pediatric hospital.  Six weeks.  Many of the kids start their hospitalization prior to that at an acute care hospital so their stay in a hospital is actually longer than that.  When you start thinking about that long for a kid in a hospital it makes the amazing work done by the entire hospital staff even more impressive.  Not only are they helping the kids heal physically and transitioning from hospital to home, but they are helping them heal mentally as well.  This is where the model of Ranken Jordan plays such a vital role in helping the children heal.  While the kids may be there for an extended period, they do not just sit in their hospital rooms.  Each morning when they wake up they are out of bed, out of their room, and actively being a kid.

This is one of the many ways that golf comes into play for the kids at Ranken Jordan.  With the extended stays many of them have, being introduced to golf will do multiple things for them.  To begin with, it gives them a regular diversion from the day-to-day life at the hospital.  The kids know when "Golf Day" is and they look forward to it every week.  Not a week goes by when I am not hearing stories about how the kids have been practicing at other times outside the regularly scheduled weekly clinic.  Those stories fill me with joy as it illustrates the positive impact golf is having in their lives.

Being involved with golf also accomplishes something else for the kids.  It allows them to set goals and work towards those goals.  Once the goals are reached new ones are set and the kids get right to work on those.  Many of the goals they set may not be specifically related to golf but golf becomes the vehicle that allows them to achieve their goals.  Some of you may remember the story of thirteen year old A.J. that was told in the article written by Joe Strauss from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in December 2012.  When A.J. came to golf the first day in his wheelchair he boldly stated that he wanted to walk.  Week after week he did his regular therapy and came to Golf Day in his wheelchair yet he kept talking about hitting golf balls while standing up.  A few weeks after he told us his goal he gave his family and all of us that were there an early, very emotional Christmas present as he golf out of his wheelchair, walked to a putting green, made a few putts, and walked back to his wheelchair.

While A.J.'s story does not happen often, those are the types of stories you will hear from the doctors, nurses, therapists, and other staff at Ranken Jordan thanks to the miraculous work they do.  Most of our junior golfers will set more traditional goals like wanting to hit the driver straighter or make more four foot putts.  But occasionally we hear from the kids about how they want to use golf to get better physically, emotionally, and mentally.  I do my best to soak in as much as possible every time I am at Ranken Jordan with the kids.  Unfortunately my small mind will not allow me to remember everything.  But I do remember far more from my time there than I forget.  Many of the things I have seen and heard are permanently etched in my memory.  Golf can be the game of a lifetime for anyone who will allow it to be.  For these kids it not only is the game of a lifetime but it is helping them get their lives back.