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!

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.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

That Aha! Moment

"Did you see the way her face lit up when she saw you and the golf clubs?  Wow!  That is amazing!"

The above comment was made during a recent visit from some out-of-town VIP visitors to Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital.  While they were in town they made it a point to schedule time to come see the kids hit golf balls and take a tour of the hospital.  Comments like this are not uncommon when people make their first visit to the hospital.  As often as possible I accompany visitors on tours of the hospital.  I do this for a couple of different reasons.  First, I always learn something new about the hospital that I had not heard before.  Second, it is always a treat to watch the faces and expressions of those taking a tour and seeing the hospital for the first time.  At some point during the tour, these expressions and reactions eventually convey their full understanding of the "magic" (to quote the mother of a former patient and junior golfer) that happens at Ranken Jordan.

With anything in life there are varying levels of understanding.  I have seen this repeatedly when it comes to the junior golf program.  Since the inception of the program in May 2011 I have had numerous conversations with people from all walks of life in regards to what we do with golf in the hospital.  The questions are typically similar and the understanding of the scope of the program can only go so far utilizing words.  During all of these conversations I encourage them to visit this blog, read the stories, look at the pictures, and watch the videos.  Each one of those things allows their understanding of the significance of the program to progress a little bit farther.  However no one can gain a full understanding of the role golf plays in the lives of the kids without seeing it first-hand.

As new visitors spend time with the kids and the junior golf program the full understanding of the significance of the golf program does not take long to sink in.  The smiling faces and laughter are all they need to see and hear.  Of course it does not hurt when they see drivers being ripped long and straight and putt after putt pouring into the hole!  Sometimes this understanding and belief is not exclusive to visitors.  Recently we had a new junior golfer who came to the program and her first comment was "I'm in a wheelchair.  I can't play golf."  It did not take long for us to prove her wrong!  Can you guess who the first one was to show up for golf the following week?  Not only was she the first one out for golf but she also refused to stop practicing at the end of the clinic!

I am very proud of the junior golf program we have built at Ranken Jordan.  Having the privilege of playing a small role in "giving the kids their lives back" is indeed a humbling honor.  Along with the pride I always welcome the opportunity to introduce the program to visitors and share with them the positive impact the game of golf is having on the kids.  Every time I have the chance to expand awareness about Ranken Jordan, their patients, staff, and the incredible work done by everyone there, I try to do just that.  Golf is the game of a lifetime for many of the kids there.  For others it is a healing tool or a positive distraction from the daily life in a hospital.  And for the hospital it is a great way to expose what goes on inside and outside the building as they "give the kids their lives back."  Through the years of this program the one thing that I completely understand is I wish I had started it sooner.

Friday, October 3, 2014

What Ryder Cup??

Like many golf fans I was disappointed that the United States team once again lost the Ryder Cup.  I was fortunate enough to be at Medinah in 2012 for the Ryder Cup matches and was hoping for a better outcome this year.  But once again the European team outplayed our team and kept the Ryder Cup until 2016 at Hazeltine.  However, disappointment did not hang around very long with me.  Later that Sunday night, our local NBC affiliate, KSDK-5, ran a story that made me essentially forget about the Ryder Cup and totally put things into perspective.

I realize that "put things into perspective" is a line straight out of the Bull Durham book of cliches.  However in this situation it is completely appropriate.  The story that night, which you can view by clicking HERE, was about our junior golf program at Ranken Jordan and one of our regulars, Cooper Burks.  KSDK sports anchor, Frank Cusumano, did a great job putting the piece together.  For those that have followed along with this blog or visited the Ranken Jordan website you know that the facility is for medically complex children.  Any time someone needs a big dose of perspective I invite them to come for our golf clinics and spend some time with the kids.

Without hesitation I will say that nothing can "put things into perspective" faster than seeing a sick child.  Following the airing of the story on KSDK-5 I received quite a bit of feedback from people who were just learning about the program for the first time.  Many of them commented that after seeing it they understand much better why I do not get upset on the golf course.  In my eyes there is no reason to.  I have the opportunity to go out and play golf whenever the opportunity presents itself.  I am fortunate that I can hit the ball, go find it, and hit it again.  Many of the kids at Ranken Jordan, and other pediatric healing facilities around the country, will not have that same opportunity.  Therefore, why should I get upset because I did not hit a shot as good as I feel I should have?  If my tee shot goes into the water, big deal.  Put another ball into play, hit it, and play on.

The superstar in the news story, Cooper, and many other kids at Ranken Jordan, will have the opportunity to play golf because of our junior golf program.  In fact, as soon as Cooper is back at Ranken Jordan following his most recent surgeries he will have a golf club in his hands again.  And when he is home with his family he will be able to go to the golf course and play the game of a lifetime.  But that opportunity will not happen without the hard work, pain, determination, and patience of Cooper and his family.  As I mentioned earlier I am fortunate to be able to play golf whenever I get the chance.  But the game has provided me with something much greater than that opportunity.  Golf has provided me the honor and privilege to get to spend so much time with Cooper, our junior golfers at Ranken Jordan, and their families.  If and when it is necessary I have things "put into perspective" on a weekly basis (if not more often than that).  I invite everyone reading this to contact me and plan a time to visit the kids at the hospital.  You absolutely will not regret it and wonder why it took you so long to visit.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Turning "Poo" Into Roses

 "Golf is a good walk spoiled." --Mark Twain

"They call it golf because all the other four letter words were taken." --Ray Floyd

"I hate this game and I can't wait to play again tomorrow." --Jeff Sluman

As the quotes and picture above allude to, golf can at times be an incredibly frustrating game.  Anyone who has played can attest to that!  However as frustrating as the game can be, it provides an endless amount of enjoyment and satisfaction that at times can be difficult to explain to anyone who has not given the game a try.  The quote below from World Golf Hall of Famer Lee Trevino more accurately describes the feelings most golfers have about the game.

"I'm a golfaholic, no question about that.  Counseling wouldn't help me.  They'd have to put me in prison, and then I'd talk the warden into building a hole or two and teach him how to play." --Lee Trevino

Try as they might and with all the daily miracles they perform, the doctors and therapists at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital have yet to find a way to immunize the kids in our junior golf program to the frustrations golf can bring on.   But it is the kids themselves who have learned that the frustration felt from a perceived bad shot is only a fleeting feeling and can be eliminated by the next swing.  Many of them have also figured out that golf can turn around a bad day and make it into a good day.  This was exactly what happened during one of my recent visits to Ranken Jordan.

The typical routine for me on "Golf Day" at Ranken Jordan is to get there a little bit early to help set up and hit a few shots myself before the kids start arriving.  While hitting a few pitch shots I heard one of our regulars on his way over tell his mom "I feel like poo . . . but I'm going to play golf!"  Feeling that way is completely understandable due to his persistent pain that makes it very difficult to sleep.  Pain, fatigue, and feeling "like poo" did not stop him from grabbing a driver and hitting golf balls for an hour straight!  Sitting in his wheelchair and swinging with one arm from the side he kept ripping driver after driver off the windows in Warner's Corner.  The smile we all know and love quickly returned to his face.  A minor adjustment to his takeaway led to even better contact and the smile continued to grow.  The next thing you know, while he is still pounding away with the driver, we were talking about the Atlanta Braves starting rotation and how big of a mistake they made by letting Tim Hudson leave via free agency the previous winter.

Golf provides a wide variety of benefits for all of the kids who take part in our junior golf program at Ranken Jordan.  For some it could be a social or emotional improvement that they experience while for others it becomes an integral part of their therapy program.  There are also many kids who pick up a club for the first time in the hospital and continue playing when they leave.  Then there are the ones like the young man discussed in this post.  For him golf is a combination of all these things and many more.  Golf makes his time in the hospital much more enjoyable, helps him through rough days, is part of his therapy, and has become the game of a lifetime for him.  When this particular clinic came to an end he made a point to say thank you and give me a hug for helping make his day better.  I made sure to tell him thank you as having the honor to count him and his family among the people I consider friends definitely makes my day better.