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!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Giving Through Education

Having worked at golf courses for over 20 years I am always amazed at the things you hear and the people this game allows you to meet.  People from all walks of life play and enjoy the game of a lifetime.  Every day on golf courses around the globe business deals are being completed, contracts are being signed, and sales are being made, while other people are simultaneously using the game to enjoy time outdoors or unwind from a stressful day at work.  One of the more interesting places to eavesdrop on stories of great shots (real or imagined), trash talking, or debate on the baseball game the night before is the practice area.  Walking around the driving range and talking to golfers on a weekend morning is one of my favorite things to do while at work.

This is just what I was doing one morning of Labor Day weekend when a golfer stopped me and said they wanted to talk to me.  A big part of the reason for spending time on the range is to answer questions about the course, offer a quick tip, or just thank players for coming out to play.  Being stopped is not uncommon but this golfer called me by name and I unfortunately could not recall their name as he was not one of our regular players.  He quickly told me he was in from out of town and this was his first time at Innsbrook.  While he was doing some research on the internet about our golf course he learned of the junior golf program at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital and had some questions about it.  Most of you who have regularly read this blog know that one thing I never have a problem talking about is Ranken Jordan and the amazing kids there.  I gladly answered his questions and during our conversation he told me that prior to coming to play at Innsbrook he had never heard of Ranken Jordan.  While we talked he mentioned he had read almost all of my blog posts (without falling asleep) and asked by name about Cooper, Dakota, Abbey, Catherine, Zyron, and Michael.  He also commented that he looked forward to learning more about Ranken Jordan and planned to do more research on the hospital and the great work that is done there on a daily basis.

This conversation on the driving range was very indicative of how Labor Day weekend went at Innsbrook.  Many but not all golfers know that Labor Day weekend is Patriot Golf Day benefiting the Folds of Honor Foundation (  Started by PGA Professional Major Dan Rooney in 2007, Folds of Honor "provides scholarships and assistance to the spouses and children of those killed or disabled in service to America."  The work done by Major Rooney, Major Ed Pulido, and the entire team at Folds is nothing short of inspirational and heroic.  During Labor Day weekend golfers are asked to donate to Patriot Golf Day so we can provide assistance to those who have given so much for our great Country.  As I mentioned, many but not all golfers know about Patriot Golf Day and Folds of Honor.  Just as I had the conversation with the gentleman about Ranken Jordan, my staff and I had the privilege of raising money for Folds and explaining to whom and why the golfers were donating money.  Please take a few moments to visit the Folds of Honor website by clicking the link above to learn about their Mission, Major Dan & his team, the Patriot Golf Club, becoming a Wingman, and all of the other ways you can support our military heroes.

Raising money for whatever charity is near to you is always a wonderful thing.  However, quite often what is more important is raising awareness for that same charity or charities.  Spreading the word and informing people about charities they likely would be interested in supporting can potentially do far more good than making a financial contribution.  This is another great thing about the game of golf -- the opportunity to raise a significant amount of money and reach a huge number of potential donors in a small amount of time.  Labor Day weekend allowed us the opportunity to tell in excess of 450 golfers about Folds of Honor and Ranken Jordan.  Hopefully those golfers who so generously donated to Patriot Golf Day went home and told their family and friends about the charity they contributed to.  Whether it is Folds of Honor, Ranken Jordan, Tony LaRussa's Animal Rescue Foundation, the V Foundation, or any charity you are passionate about, talk about it.  Spread the word.  Let people know why it is important to support the wide array of charities that are out there.  The more people who know about the charity the more contributions that charity will receive.  You spreading the word and helping to bring in more financial contributions mean more people (and animals) get the help they need.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Children Get A Chance

Beginning something new can be a very daunting challenge for anybody.  Think about the last time you decided to pick up a new hobby or start a new job.  Imagine not being a runner and signing up for a half-marathon.  Do you think the training plan to complete the 13.1 mile run will be very intimidating?  Maybe you have been watching PGA Tour events on television and the Get Golf Ready commercials finally convinced you to find a PGA Professional and learn how to play golf.  The first time you walk onto the driving range you very likely will still be a bit tentative.  Now imagine you want to learn how to play golf but you are in a wheelchair or a hospital bed . . . and in a pediatric hospital.  You would likely think this should be virtually impossible, correct?  Wrong.  Every week this very thing is happening and those children who experience the tentativeness quickly fall in love with the game.

Golf is an incredible game for a myriad of reasons.  One of those is the opportunity for everybody to learn to play the game, play the game well, and be competitive on a level playing field.  These are all some of the things we discuss with the children at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital in St. Louis, MO.  Quite often we see kids who are hesitant to pick up a golf club and learn the game of a lifetime.  It is not uncommon to hear things like "I can't play golf in my wheelchair" or "these tubes and cords will get in the way while I swing."  The hesitation and uncertainty that they have is easy to see.  Many times the kids will just sit and watch for a portion of the clinic or even through the entire clinic.  However it is not long before the smiles and laughter from the other kids entices them to grab a golf club.

This is exactly what happened recently with a young lady who initially had no interest in learning to play golf.  She would come to the clinics to watch the other kids, but spent most of the time talking to the therapists or playing games on her phone.  Two or three weeks of the same scenario played out until one day she asked if she could give it a try for a few swings.  A few swings turned into about an hour of hitting golf balls!  What initially began as an unwillingness to even give golf a try from her wheelchair turned into a full-blown golf addict.  Several weeks after first picking up a golf club Carissa was ready to go home.  When she left Ranken Jordan she did so with a brand new U.S. Kids driver.

While reading this you might be thinking to yourself, "how in the world can a child hit a golf ball or even swing a club from a wheelchair or with pulse/ox monitors, feeding tubes, or breathing tubes?"  The physics behind getting a golf ball in the air do not change regardless of who is hitting it.  What changes is how the player gets the golf club to the proper position to produce a good golf shot.  With many of the kids at Ranken Jordan that is where a bit of creativity, and trial and error, comes into play.  Go to any driving range or golf course and you will see every play setting up differently to hit the golf ball.  The same is true with people with different abilities.  There is no one "correct" way for a child to position their wheelchair to hit a golf ball.  Every child has a slightly different position that feels comfortable to them.  With each child we find the best position for them, often times this varies from week to week, and sometimes can even be from the other side of the golf ball!

Hang around golfers for very long and you will likely hear them talk about "the secret" to the game.  So what is "the secret" to teaching golf to medically complex children in a pediatric hospital?  Very simple:  Give them the opportunity to learn and do it with a smile on your face.  Having the opportunity is the biggest hurdle to clear.  As an industry, we need to do a better job of welcoming all players to our golf facilities.  Everybody should have the opportunity to play this great game but unfortunately that is not always the case.  I feel very lucky to be able to offer this opportunity to all of the kids who spend any time at Ranken Jordan.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Hidden In Plain Sight

Over the past couple of months I have been asked by several people why I am not putting up new blog posts as frequently as I was in previous years.  The simple answer to that is it is golf season and I am a PGA Professional.  However there are also those days when I sit down at the computer with the intent of writing a new blog post and my feeble little mind goes completely blank.  Then there are the times like the topic I am going to attempt to write about in this post.  Quite often I will see or hear something at Ranken Jordan that I immediately think I want to write about.  However after a bit of thought I realize that I do not possess the ability to adequately discuss that particular topic.  That is the case with this one but I am going to give it a shot anyway.

A couple of months ago I was at Ranken Jordan one evening for an event celebrating the 10th anniversary of being in their current building at 11365 Dorsett Road.  During that event Ranken Jordan's President & CEO, Lauri Tanner, and the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Nick Holekamp, gave amazing speeches.  Every time I hear them speak I am blown away by their eloquence and passion for helping medically complex children.  That night one of them discussed the significance of the address and I have thought about it daily since hearing the explanation.  I mentioned that address just a few sentences earlier:  11365.  What is so significant about those 5 digits?  Think about it for a minute.  1 mission, 1 child at a time, 365 days a year = 11365.  Want to know what Ranken Jordan does and what makes them so unique?  You can see it on the side of the building every time you pull into the parking lot.

Hopefully our junior golf program lives up to that lofty standard.  I certainly hope that it does.  In the weeks and months that have followed hearing that explanation while in the PHRS gym at Ranken Jordan, I have frequently reflected back on the past 4 1/2 years since we started the junior golf program.  While my opinion is slightly biased, I believe we have met, and continue to meet, that standard.  One of the kids I think about was one of our "regulars" a couple of years ago.  Because of a recent surgery he was confined to his hospital bed while he recovered.  Many might think that would slow him down and prohibit him from playing golf.  All those people would be wrong.  One morning his grandmother was visiting him and she came with him to golf.  She even commented to me that "he can't play golf from his hospital bed."  I got a big grin on my face and said simply, "watch this."  After watching him hole a few putts she was not convinced so he moved on to hitting some wedges.  Apparently those wedges were not enough proof so he started hitting some drivers.  That seemed to do the trick and while she looked on with a combination of pride and disbelief, she smiled and said, "my grandson is playing golf from his hospital bed."

Many of the kids come to play golf in hospital beds, wheelchairs, or walkers, and have gait belts, pulse/ox machines, casts, braces, stitches, staples, etc.  We have children come to "Golf Day" with a myriad of complex medical conditions.  Every one of them gets a golf club in their hands, receives instruction on how to swing the club, and then they hit some of the most impressive golf shots I have ever seen.  Thousands of golf shots have been hit at Ranken Jordan and thousands more will be hit in the future.  The best part of all of those shots are the smiles on the faces of the children swinging the golf clubs. When I first approached Janine Roe about starting this program we both had the same goal:  put smiles on the faces of the kids.  Through all of the good shots, "practice swings," and holed putts, the children have smiled.  Many times while helping and watching the kids I will look at Janine or one of the other volunteers/golf professionals and just smile.  Words are not necessary to convey the significance of watching Carissa bang drivers off the windows or seeing Tony make another putt.  Mrs. Jordan was correct when she said "consider the children first in all that you do."  I am proud to say our golf program does just that.

Monday, August 3, 2015

A New Start

This past Monday was the annual Ranken Jordan golf tournament.  Every year I am amazed by the incredible outpouring of support from the community for one of my favorite places.  I tend to smile quite a bit during that day as I think about all the funds being raised that will do so much good in giving kids their lives back.  This year there was a great turnout and everybody was treated to a new tradition. For those who know me best, they know that my favorite week of the year culminates the second weekend of April.  Many might think it would be the week prior to coincide with what is typically Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season.  However there is nothing I look forward to more each year than the Masters golf tournament.

Beginning in 1963, the Masters has had a tradition of having honorary starters begin the tournament early on Thursday morning.  Jock Hutchinson and Fred McLeod were the original two who held the position of honorary starters.  Currently Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player, hit my three favorite golf shots of the year when they officially start the Masters.  At this year's Ranken Jordan tournament we had our own "Big 3" as Sam Ward, Michael Tekeser (Mikey T.), and Jessie Rodriguez performed the duties of our honorary starters.  Just as you can see Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, and other PGA Tour players gather around to watch the tee shots at Augusta National, the players in this year's Ranken Jordan tournament gathered at the first tee to watch a new tradition.  Everyone was rewarded by seeing our very own honorary starters rip a drive down the first fairway leading to the Ranken Jordan event being officially started!

A new tradition begins!
As our honorary starters were hitting their tee shots, I made it a point to look around to see the reactions from the golfers who had gathered to watch.  I was thrilled to see every person with a smile on their face.  Some of those smiling faces were like me and also had tears in their eyes.  The tears in my eyes came when I looked at each of the kids.  Seeing the look of pure joy on the faces of our "Big 3" is something that I will never forget.  Those who saw the three tee shots had the reason why they were playing in this tournament driven home in a spectacular way.  It underscored what "care beyond the bedside" is all about.  As everyone returned to their golf carts to head out to their respective starting hole on the golf course, I saw and heard very similar reactions from the golfers.  Many were simply silent, lost in thought at the amazing sight they had just witnessed.  Others spoke softly as they expressed how fortunate they felt to have been there to witness this great new tradition.

Memphis, TN native and former Ranken Jordan day treatment patient Sam Ward watching another drive go right down the middle of the fairway.
My feelings on that hot July day were very similar to those of the golfers I just described observing.  However I am always amazed by the incredible kids at Ranken Jordan and feel fortunate to get to spend the amount of time I do with them. Folks who spend time helping kids from any walk of life understand these feelings.  If you have never had the opportunity to give a little to experience a huge return I encourage you to create that opportunity.  Everyone has a charity or group in their area who would welcome the help.  And if you do not want to take the time to locate a charity to help, use the e-mail address at the top of the page to get in contact with me and I will find one for you.  There is nothing more rewarding than putting a smile on the face of a child.  Every day at 11365 Dorsett Road you see Mary Ranken Jordan's favorite words in action; at the annual golf tournament those words were also on display:  "Consider the children first in all that you do."

Mikey T. is everywhere!  Here he is "watching" over Ranken Jordan CEO Lauri Tanner's group as they line up a birdie putt.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Volunteers Provide Success

Far too often I sit down in front of the computer to write a new blog post and wind up staring at a blank screen.  Sometimes I am distracted by the Cardinals game and get caught up watching it instead of what I had intended to do.  Other times my brain is fried from successive long days in the golf shop.  Yet other times I simply cannot decide what I want to write about.  When you spend regular time in a pediatric hospital interacting with the kids on a consistent basis you have so many stories swirling around in your head that you have a difficult time prioritizing which ones to tell first.  Every week at Ranken Jordan I am learning something new from the kids or a golfer will come into the golf shop and inquire about the junior golf program.  Typically these occurrences are ones that I want to elaborate on and tell the full story on this blog.  Unfortunately I am not smart enough to write down the ideas when they pop into my small mind!

One of the topics that I always enjoy writing about and sharing with others is the reaction from new volunteers the first time they come to Ranken Jordan to help with the junior golf program.  Regardless of who it is, their background, or what they do for a living, they all have the same initial reaction:  "we're in a hospital?"  When you pull into the parking lot at 11365 Dorsett Road you do not believe you are looking at a pediatric hospital.  Walking through the front doors does nothing to change that feeling.  Ranken Jordan does not look or feel like a typical pediatric hospital because it is not a typical pediatric hospital.  It is a unique facility with unique, special doctors, nurses, therapists, staff, patients, families, and volunteers.  This point becomes evident to those new visitors almost immediately.  "Care beyond the bedside" is not a slogan; it is a belief that has been carried out since day 1.

Recently I have had the good fortune to introduce several new volunteers to Ranken Jordan.  Thanks to their willingness to share their time and compassion with the kids, these wonderful people have learned why I am so passionate about Ranken Jordan and why I believe so strongly that golf is a healing tool.  Prior to the start of the golf clinics, I share with all new volunteers the same thoughts about the golf program that I have shared on here in the past.  This program is not a typical junior golf program.  Each child derives a different type of benefit from learning to play golf.  Quite often there are multiple benefits for the children.  Yes the kids learn how to play golf but that part is secondary to other more important benefits.  The physical, social, and emotional healing and improvements they get from learning to play golf and being involved with a sport far outweigh learning how to get the optimum launch angle with their driver or get a putt rolling perfectly.

The people who come to Ranken Jordan to help with the junior golf program see how important "play" is to the healing of children.  For lack of a more eloquent way of saying this, they get it.  They see how important it is to put a smile on a child's face, get them to laugh, or teach them something new.  More importantly, they see how great of an impact they can have by simply carving a little niche out of their schedule to spend some time with the kids.  That is the real reason why the junior golf program is so successful.  It is not because we can teach the game to the kids at the hospital regardless of the complex medical condition they are fighting.  Simply put, the program is successful because wonderful people, both inside and outside the hospital, care enough to take the time to do anything they can to put a smile on the face of a child.  I may be the one who presented the idea to Janine Roe and the folks at Ranken Jordan, but the reason for the week in and week out success of the program lies with each and every person who has given of their time to help a child in need.  For that I cannot say "thank you" enough.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Golf & Therapy

It has been over a month since my last blog post.  However that does not mean that golf with the kids at Ranken Jordan has slowed down.  It is just the opposite, in fact.  Since the middle of this past winter the kids have been getting to play and practice two times a week!  Being able to add another "Golf Day" to the schedule is thanks to the generosity and caring nature of some wonderful people who have been volunteering their time to help the kids.  The junior golf program at Ranken Jordan has been successful because of these people.  Without the help and support of volunteers and the Gateway PGA Section we would not have nearly as many success stories as we do.

One of those stories came not too long ago on one of the few days we were able to go outside with the kids.  St. Louis had the wettest May in history and June is not off to a much better start.  Because of all the rain we have had it has been rare that we could take the kids outside.  However one day recently we had a break in the clouds and were able to get out to enjoy the sunshine.  The kids love playing golf when we are inside, but their excitement gets ratcheted up several notches when we go outside.  This was obvious two weeks ago when we wound up having to intermingle golf and therapy.

Each summer Ranken Jordan has multiple summer camps.  Golf is one of the many activities that is always included in these camps.  At one of the camps last summer we introduced golf to a young lady named Addie.  She was instantly addicted to the game and did not want to put the club down.  Fast forward to two weeks ago and Addie was outside with us at Ranken Jordan swinging away.  I could not get the golf balls teed up fast enough for her to hit!  At one point she even set two golf balls side by side on the mat . . . and then proceeded to hit both of them perfectly!  While she was practicing Addie looked at the 3 of us who were there helping and watching and told us "I love golf.  I could do this all day!"

The only problem with her hitting golf balls all day was she had therapy right after golf was over.  A solution for that small issue was quickly discovered.  Addie would hit a few shots and then do one of her exercises.  When she finished that exercise she would go right back to hitting golf balls until it was time for another exercise.  This continued on until she finished her therapy session.  When everything was finished she had been hitting golf balls for an hour and a half!  That entire time she had a smile on her face and had a contagious level of enthusiasm.  There was not one person around during that time who was not enjoying watching Addie hit golf ball after golf ball.  It is days like that when I enjoy helping the kids far more than if I was playing or practicing myself.  To see the look of pure joy and excitement from any of the kids at Ranken Jordan is absolutely priceless.

Hitting a good golf shot or putting up a career low round is always fun.  However I get just as much pleasure out of hearing stories from my students about their improvement.  And when that improvement and excitement is coming from the kids there just is not anything better.  The volunteers and golf professionals who come out every week to help feel the exact same way.  The smiles on the faces of the kids keep everybody coming back.  As I said earlier, the golf program has had so much success because of the help and support from the volunteers, golf professionals, and our Section.  Knowing that golf has helped, and continues to help, thousands of kids makes me smile.  I can not wait to get back there next Wednesday, or as it is known around Ranken Jordan, "Golf Day."

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Diez de Mayo

May 10, 2015, happens to be Mother's Day this year.  It is also the final round of the PGA Tour's Players Championship.  For a lot of people it will just be a lazy Sunday to enjoy with family or friends.  At Ranken Jordan, and for those of us involved with the junior golf program there, May 10, 2015, is the 4th anniversary of the first golf clinic.  It sure does not seem like it has been 4 years since we started the program.  The old cliche of "time flies when you're having fun" certainly applies in this case!

There is not a week that goes by when I am not reminded multiple times about why I am so thankful that Janine Roe, and the rest of the staff at Ranken Jordan, believed in this idea when I first brought it to them.  "Care beyond the bedside" is not just a slogan or phrase that is carelessly tossed around at Ranken Jordan.  Every person there believes it and lives it daily as they give children their lives back.  The golf program is just one of many examples seen regularly of this concept.  Not long ago I was working with a young man in a wheelchair who also has limited use of his arms.  Prior to coming to Ranken Jordan he had never touched a golf club and did not know how he could play golf from his wheelchair.  We showed him exactly how he could do it.  That first day he hit golf balls for about 30 minutes.  The following week he went for the entire hour!  Due to the limited use of his arms we help him swing most of the time so he does not fatigue too quickly.  It was during one of these times that I hear him say very softly, "that was awesome."  He followed that good shot with another one and in that same quiet voice he proclaims, "I love playing golf!"

The week following the clinic I just described I was helping another junior golfer named Zyron get ready to practice his swing.  He took a couple of practice swings and we got his pulse-ox machine in the right spot so it would not interfere too much with his follow through.  After that he looked at me and said, "You gotta move so you don't get hit.  Now watch and learn!"  I absolutely loved it!  A few short weeks ago this shy young man picked up a golf club for the first time and barely spoke while he was practicing.  Now he cannot get to golf fast enough and starts doing a little bit of trash talking!  Seeing transformations like these are just one example of how golf is helping these incredible kids on their healing journey.

Stories like these are not uncommon.  For many of the kids the junior golf program at Ranken Jordan is their first experience with golf.  Many of them get that same "bug bite" that all the other golfers have had:  the one that gets them addicted to the game after they hear the click and get the feel of that first well struck golf shot.  I am honored, humbled, thrilled, and a whole host of other emotions, that I can be a small part of creating that addiction.  Because of all the kids, families, staff, and volunteers at Ranken Jordan, May 10 will always hold special meaning for me.  It is always at this time of year that I realize I do not tell those groups of people "thank you" often enough.  Four years of creating smiles, laughter, memories, healing, and new golfers, and we are not slowing down any time soon!