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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!

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.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Wish Fulfilled

Growing the game of golf is a challenge facing everyone involved in our game around the world.  As I have well documented on this blog one of the ways I am trying to grow the game is by exposing the game to a "non-traditional" audience.  So far I would say it has been reasonably successful.  Many of the 2,000+ kids who have picked up a club for the first time at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital have continued to play after going home.  Several staff members (doctors, nurses, therapists, administrators, etc.) have begun playing or started playing more since the inception of the golf program.  But with this particular program growing the game is not necessarily the focal point.  Helping kids get better through their involvement with a sport is the most important part.

This blog post will be shorter than many of the ones I have written but I wanted to share a quick story about a conversation I had with one of our junior golfers prior to him going home.  One of my favorite stories to tell about the program involves a young man named Dakota.  He was always one of our "regulars" and made it a point to practice as often as possible.  Dakota's initial impression of golf was that it was "stupid and boring."  Rather than retell the entire story of that first meeting, please click HERE to read a past post that details it.

When I was at Ranken Jordan a couple of weeks ago Dakota told me the great news that he would be going home soon!  Later on that morning he pulled me aside and said he needed to ask my a question.  Through golf Dakota and I developed a good friendship so I had no idea what he was going to ask me!  He got a serious look on his face and asked if there was anyway I could get him a golf club to take home with him.  I told him I would do my best to find something for him to take home.  Fast forward a week and it was time for Dakota to go home.  However I had to give him the bad news that he wouldn't have a golf club to take home.  Instead he would have a brand new full set of U.S. Kids golf clubs!

This is just one of many examples of how important golf has become to many of the kids at Ranken Jordan.  There are times like this when the growth of the game impact is easily quantifiable.  However what is far more important to me is seeing the improvement in the lives of these kids because they have had the opportunity to pick up a golf club.  The smile Dakota had on his face when he saw his new golf clubs is something I will never forget.  Have fun with them, Dakota, and don't break any windows!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Kids Say the Darndest Things

According to Art Linkletter and Bill Cosby, "kids say the darndest things."  Spend enough time around kids and it is anybody's guess what you may hear.  Many times the comments they make will have everybody around them laughing uncontrollably.  Other times the sweetness and sincerity in their words can bring tears to your eyes.  And occasionally you will hear them say something that brings a huge smile to your face, leaves you speechless, and provides instant validation for what you are doing.

Over the 3 1/2 years we have been conducting junior golf clinics at Ranken Jordan we have had over 2,000 kids "say some of the darndest things."  One of these instances occurred recently with a new junior golfer.  As is often the case, one of the first things that happened after this young man came to Ranken Jordan was his introduction to the game of golf.  Like many of the kids this was the first time he had ever held a golf club.  Due to the walker he currently uses the length of his backswing was limited.  That did not stop him from boldly stating that "I am going to hit it farther than my daddy!"  We went to work on his swing and quickly had him making consistent contact.  His shots started flying higher, straighter, and farther.  The smile on his face continued to grow bigger with each good shot he hit.  Soon, though, fatigue started to set in and he decided to call it a day.  Before leaving to go back inside he assured me he would practice and be back next week to learn more!

Fast forward a week and "Golf Day" at Ranken Jordan arrived.  True to his word, he was back and I quickly saw that he had been practicing.  The huge smile was still there and his swing was noticeably improved.  We hit shots for a while working on some minor mechanical issues here and there.  When he got tired this week he decided he wanted to learn to putt instead of stopping for the day.  He walked over to a putting green and started rolling a few putts.  With only a couple small changes to his stroke he began putting much better.  A few short minutes later and he made 3 putts in a row!  As soon as the third putt fell into the hole he raised both arms in the air and yelled "I LOVE GOLF" loud enough for everybody in a 5 mile radius to hear him!!  Hearing that left me completely speechless and with an ear-to-ear smile.

Seeing the pure joy and excitement on his face and hearing the same in his voice gave me yet another reminder of why I do what I do at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital.  Teaching these kids how they can play golf is truly a privilege and something I look forward to every week.  When we get the reaction described in the story above it quickly illustrates how important golf is to these kids and makes me want to do even more for them.  Reactions like this cannot happen often enough.  The mother of one of our junior golfers once commented that our junior golf program "is magic."  From my point of view the truly magical part is seeing what golf can do for these great kids.  While our new junior golfer keeps yelling "I LOVE GOLF" I'll keep asking "is it Golf Day yet?"

Saturday, August 2, 2014


Kids around the United States look forward to summer.  For many of them it means no school, playing all day with friends, family vacations, or summer camps.  But for the kids who have to spend significant portions (or all) of summer in a hospital, summer camp is typically far from their mind.  However, if you happen to be one of the kids at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital, you will get your summer camp!

This past week was the second of the week-long summer camps orchestrated by Janine Roe, Community Programs Director at Ranken Jordan.  Each year there is a wide variety of activities and since 2011 golf has been included as one of those activities.  At the camps you will see inpatients, outpatients, day treatment patients, and kids from the community.  All of the activities in the camps encourage interaction between all of the kids.  Nowhere is this more evident than when the kids make their way outside for golf.

On any given weekend morning, spend a little bit of time on any driving range at any golf course in the country, and you will see how inclusive the game of golf can be.  Men, women, and children of all ages, heights, body types, and skill levels are hitting range balls to loosen up before their rounds.  Many foursomes will feature a wide range of scores after the cards have been tallied at the completion of play.  Yet regardless of score, skill level, or age, everyone has the opportunity to play together and compete against each other.

The same situation occurs at Ranken Jordan every year during camp.  Anyone who is there can look down the line of kids hitting golf balls and see kids in wheelchairs, others using walkers, some wearing braces, and several who are completely healthy.  None of this stops any of the kids from grabbing a club and swinging away!  Our group of PGA Professionals and volunteers work with each of the kids and get them hitting the ball as good as possible with the limited time we have to help them.

The camp weeks are some of my favorite times at Ranken Jordan.  These weeks show how inclusive golf can be if given the opportunity.  Social interaction with their peers is one of the many benefits kids receive from being involved in a sport.  These special weeks at Ranken Jordan show that all kids should have the opportunity to learn how to play golf if they choose to.  I have witnessed kids playing and interacting with other kids they may never have even looked at . . . and at the end of the clinic all of them talk about how much fun they had.  Our golf program allows all kids to simply be kids while playing a game.  I sincerely hope that one day we will see similar opportunities and possibilities for kids around the country.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Another Marathon for the Kids

A few days ago I completed my third marathon.  No, it was not a 26.2 mile run (that will happen in January).  Instead it was the third annual Gateway PGA Golf Day 100 hole marathon.  With this event, Gateway PGA Professionals play 100 holes of golf in one day while raising money to support local charities.  From the inception of this event it has been one of my favorites and the one event I make certain to play each year.  This year my pace of play was a bit slow as it took me about 6 1/2 hours to finish all 100 holes!  Regardless of how fast or slow I played, this is a wonderful event and one I always look forward to.  Each of the charities that benefit from the efforts of our section's PGA Professionals are special to all of us for a variety of reasons.  We tend to connect with one or two of them and make it a point to raise as much money as possible to help some of our favorite charities.

Shortly after the completion of this year's event on August 15, the funds raised will be distributed to Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital, Hospice of Southern Illinois, Gateway PGA Foundation, Ronald McDonald House, Quincy Area Golf in Schools, and Kids Harbor Child Advocacy Center.  A relatively small group of PGA Professionals participating in one golf event will positively impact thousands of lives throughout large portions of Missouri and Illinois.  I am very proud to be a part of an event that creates such a tremendous amount of good for so many simply by hitting a golf ball a few times.  Want to see how PGA Professionals are improving lives through our game?  Talk to Gideon Smith, PGA, in Quincy, IL, about the number of kids he has introduced to golf through his in school program.  Or contact Paul Leahy, PGA, about the junior golf program at the Lake of the Ozarks.  Maybe you are like me and have had a family member spend the final few days of their life in hospice care.  Simply put, golf is doing great things for thousands of people in the Gateway PGA Section and this event is a big part of why that is possible.

There is one other way that I experience the impact this event has.  Through my involvement at Ranken Jordan I get to be a part of the golf program there and teach some amazing kids how to play golf regardless of the complex medical issue they are fighting.  I mentioned that one of the charities supported by PGA Golf Day is the Gateway PGA Foundation.  Through the generosity of the Foundation, the golf program at Ranken Jordan has not cost the hospital a cent.  All of the equipment has been donated by the Foundation and 100% of the PGA Professionals' time is on a volunteer basis.  This is something I am very, very proud to be able to say.  The golf program at Ranken Jordan is improving the lives of the kids, helping them heal faster, and through PGA Golf Day, we are also donating money each year to the hospital.  There is still time to donate by clicking HERE.

Playing 100 holes of golf in one day may sound like a very daunting task to some.  However I can tell you from experience that it is not as tough as you may think.  Yes I got fatigued while playing and yes I was a bit sore the next day.  Each year the fatigue and soreness is there and as I get older I am sure it will only get worse.  But each year I will proudly be a part of PGA Golf Day as we raise money for all of the great charities.  Why is this?  Because it is a very simple way for me to give back to those who made my mother's final few days as comfortable as possible and it also provides an incredible hospital with a small donation to help very special kids get their lives back.