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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, December 26, 2013

Spreading the Word

Another year is drawing to a close and this is always the time for year end reviews and reflections.  The golf program at Ranken Jordan is closing in on 3 years old and it doesn't seem a day goes by when I don't look back on that time.  One of the things things that has made me the happiest this year (aside from all the smiles and great stories from the kids) is the evolution of the questions I have received from people not associated with the hospital.

Early on in our program questions typically consisted of "Why?"  We would also hear "How do you get the kids in wheelchairs (or hospital beds) hitting golf balls?"  Now many people are starting to "get" it and understand the significant role golf plays in the lives of these great kids.  This year, more often than not, the question I have received the most is about the various media stories on our golf program.  Since I have heard that question so often this year I will keep this post short and provide links to everything.  Please feel free to click and read or watch at your convenience.  The best part of all the articles and television stories is the spotlight they shine on the kids and the hospital.  Every time the golf program is discussed in any type of media coverage the focus goes to the kids and the hospital.  There is also a link to Ranken Jordan's January 18 Crystal Ball Gala at the Ritz-Carlton in Clayton, MO.  Those who can should definitely attend!

Mary Ranken Jordan Society Service to Children Award Video

Golf Channel article by Al Tays

Joe Strauss article in St. Louis Post-Dispatch

KSDK-TV 5 story about Scott Simpson's visit

KSDK-TV 5 story by Kay Quinn

VuGolf story with Dustin Ashby part 1

VuGolf story with Dustin Ashby part 2

2014 Ranken Jordan Crystal Ball Gala

I certainly hope everyone had a happy holiday season and best wishes for a healthy New Year! Please keep the e-mails, phone calls, text messages, and tweets coming with any comments, questions, and feedback about the junior golf program and/or Ranken Jordan.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Laughing & Living

Winter is firmly entrenched in many parts of the country and the holidays are upon us.  More freezing rain and snow is imminent which means no golf will be played for some time.  However the winter weather will not slow down the kids at Ranken Jordan from playing golf every week.  I have regularly talked about how much fun the kids have with golf and how they will not let much get in the way of them playing this great game.  Even doctors and nurses sometimes have to wait until 1 more putt drops before the kids will put down the clubs!

It was about this time last year that one of my fondest memories from our junior golf program occurred.  Last year we had a young man named A.J. who fell in love with golf the first time we put a club in his hands.  During that first introduction to golf, we asked A.J. what he wanted to accomplish with the game.  His reply was "I want to learn how to walk again."  Fast forward a few weeks and A.J. gave all of us who were there one of the greatest Christmas presents imaginable.  He came to the golf clinic in his wheelchair, grabbed a putter, stood up, walked to the putting green, and rolled a few putts.  As you can imagine there were not many dry eyes.  Thankfully Joe Strauss from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was there to write an article about the golf program.  He easily tells the story in a much more eloquent manner than I ever could.  You can read his article by clicking HERE.

Stories like this, miraculous as they are, are not an uncommon occurrence at Ranken Jordan.  The staff there has figured out one thing:  kids heal better and faster when they are having fun.  There are not many pediatric healing facilities where you walk in and see the patients playing air hockey, ping pong, basketball, or golf.  Often times we will have people come over while we are doing the golf clinic to return golf balls they have found in some far corner of the hospital.  The kids do not spend any more time than necessary in their rooms.  They are up and moving around getting back to living while they are healing.

One other thing that is common at Ranken Jordan is laughter.  There certainly is not a much sweeter sound than a child's laugh.  Hearing that makes it obvious that the kids are getting better while they are having fun.  We certainly have our share of laughs while we are playing golf!  That joyful noise always reminds me of a line from "Changes In Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes," one of my favorite Jimmy Buffett songs, when he sings "If we couldn't laugh we would all go insane."  That laughter is extra special during the holiday season and has definitely kept me from going insane . . . sort of.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Improving Lives One Swing At A Time

As I sit here typing this post I look out the window and see snow coming down on top of the snow and ice the St. Louis area received in the past couple of days.  With this type of weather some may think that it would be difficult to be excited about the game of golf.  After all, unless I come up with an excuse to go south to warmer weather I won't be playing golf anytime soon!  It certainly is not uncommon to lose a bit of passion and desire for the game knowing that consistent warm weather in this region is a few months away.

The winter months are really the ideal time for golfers to recharge their batteries and do the little things that can pay huge dividends when the next golf season arrives.  For some this could be getting into better physical condition, reading a book by Dr. Bob Rotella to improve their mental approach to golf, or just enjoy some down time after a long season of hard work.  Others may enjoy doing what I am doing right now and watch whatever PGA Tour event is on to see some beautiful golf courses, sunshine, and warm(er) weather.  One thing I do every week that keeps my passion and excitement for this game at a high level is go to Ranken Jordan and work with the kids in that incredible pediatric hospital.

Golf can and does represent a lot of things to the kids in the hospital.  It certainly gives them a fun activity to do while they are in the hospital and provides numerous physical therapy benefits.  They see social and emotional improvements by interacting with their peers through sport.  The kids see possibility and hope from being involved with and learning a game that they can continue to play when they leave the hospital and go home.  And one of the things golf will do for these kids is exactly what I was reminded of recently:  it gives them a reason to smile and look forward to the day.

As I walked into the hospital a few short days ago the mother of one of the kids in our golf program stopped me and told me that her child hasn't been as happy as usual the past couple of days.  However that all changed when she told him that particular day was "golf day."  Suddenly the smile that everybody knows and loves lit up his face and he wanted out of bed as fast as possible.  This game we all love took a couple of bad days and instantly turned things around.  Never mind that weather conditions dictated we stay inside and bang drivers off the windows (how many pediatric hospitals do you see golf balls bouncing all over the place every week?).  Just being able to get a golf club in his hands and make some swings had this young man happy once again.

Sometimes people will ask why I spend so much time at the hospital working with the kids.  My answer always starts by telling them that I don't spend as much time there as I should.  But the reason why I spend the time I do is a story like the one I just related.  By showing up and bringing the game of golf to the kids, their lives are improved.  Some of them will continue to play the game of a lifetime when the leave.  Others will never pick up a club after going home.  But all of them have fun, laugh, and smile while they are in the hospital playing golf.  For those who have never spent time in a pediatric hospital and done something to put a smile on the face of a child I can tell you that nothing compares to seeing that reaction.  Golf has done a lot of things for me during my lifetime but the best thing the game has done is allowed me to bring a bit of joy to the lives of some very special kids.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thankful For . . .

Another Thanksgiving holiday has come and gone.  If you're anything like me you ate too much turkey, fell asleep watching football, woke up for more turkey, and then fell asleep again watching football.  Holidays are always a great opportunity to spend time with family, friends, and those who are important to each of us.  Thanksgiving is also a great time to reflect on the good things we have in our lives and express our gratitude for all those things we are thankful for.

One of the things that I am most thankful for is having the opportunity to go every week to Ranken Jordan and teach the kids how to play golf.  As I have mentioned before in other posts, starting the junior golf program is without a doubt the best thing I have done thus far in my golf career.  Every week I see or hear something that reminds me of the significant positive impact the game of golf is having in the lives of these children.  While it is not necessary, it is always heartwarming to hear positive feedback from the kids and their families.

In the past week there have been two occasions where the impact of golf program has been shared with me.  The first was through a moving letter written by the mother of a patient who was recently discharged.  Her letter clearly expressed her thanks and gratitude to everyone at Ranken Jordan as they cared for her son and provided her with significant help and guidance as well.  Her son is a sports nut and the only sport he can safely play is golf.  Prior to coming to Ranken Jordan he had never touched a golf club.  Because of the few clinics he attended, he told me right before he went home that he wanted to keep playing, practice, and try out for his high school golf team.

And then we had our golf clinic this morning.  As has been happening recently, we had a large group of kids excited to get a golf club in their hands and start swinging.  While working with one young man he made the following comment to me:

"I don't know what I would have done here without golf.  I might have gone crazy!  Before I came to Ranken Jordan I didn't really like golf.  Now that I have learned how to play I love the game and can't wait to keep playing when I go home.  All of this is because of you."

While he worked on his putting we kept talking about a variety of topics, how much better his putting is getting, the Alabama-Auburn game, and how well Adam Scott is playing, among other things.  However I had to leave him for a few minutes and go help some of the other kids who were there this morning . . . partly to make sure they were working on the right things and having fun and partly to make sure he didn't see the tears of joy that I was struggling to hold back.  He almost made me want to say "War Eagle."

Saturday, November 23, 2013


On October 22 of this year, one of my fellow PGA Professionals, Todd Meyer, came to Ranken Jordan to surprise me with the news that I had been selected as the 2013 Gateway PGA Junior Golf Leader.  Needless to say I was in total shock at this very unexpected honor.  Receiving the news from Todd gave the award extra meaning.  Not only is he one of the best teachers in our Section (and around the country in my opinion) but he is also one of the finest gentlemen you will ever meet.

Before I continue on any further I would like to recognize the other very deserving 2013 Gateway PGA Award Winners:

Joe Dodich PGA Professional of the Year:  Gideon Smith
PGA Assistant Professional of the Year:  Brandon Coffey
PGA Teacher of the Year:  Barbara Blanchar
PGA Bill Strausbaugh Award:  Jeffrey Field
PGA Horton Smith Award:  Craig Liddle
President's Plaque/Growth of the Game:  Jon DePriest
PGA Resort Merchandiser of the Year:  Ryan Manselle
PGA Public Merchandiser of the Year:  Ty Zimmerman
PGA Private Merchandiser of the Year:  Mike Tucker
Hard Goods Sales Rep of the Year:  David Kohlberg
Soft Goods Sales Rep of the Year:  Michael Bechert
PGA Player of the Year & Senior Player of the Year:  Bob Gaus
PGA Super Senior Player of the Year:  Steve Heckel
PGA Assistant Player of the Year:  Shane Blankenship
PGA Women's Player of the Year:  Barbara Blanchar

In preparation for our annual awards dinner in early December all of the awards recipients received a questionnaire that needed to be completed.  Our answers help provide information that will be used throughout the evening.  One of the questions asked who has provided the greatest inspiration in our career.  My answer included four people:  my mother and father, Robert Harper, PGA, and Annette Thompson, LPGA.  Each of these people has contributed more to my career as a PGA Professional and who I am as a person than they will ever know.  There is no way I would be where I am today without the influence and guidance they have provided.

However there is another group of people who provide an incredible  amount of inspiration and influence every week.  This group would be the kids at Ranken Jordan who take part in our weekly golf clinics.  It is without hesitation that I will tell anyone that these amazing kids provide continuous influence and inspiration as I strive to continually improve as a PGA Professional, father, son, and human being.  Far too often you hear the comment that something "has put it all into perspective."  I have a tendency to let that type of comment go in one ear and out the other.  What I see on a weekly basis really puts everything into perspective.

Today in our golf clinic we had 10 kids . . . 5 in wheelchairs and 5 ambulatory.  Watch the interaction between the kids, the attitudes of all of them, and spend just a few minutes talking to them.  Do this and your entire thought of what "puts things into perspective" will be changed forever.  As we move closer to our awards dinner all of this year's recipients will see people who helped get us to where we are and we will have the chance to thank them in person.  I am very fortunate that I get to see one group of people who helped me get to where I am, and continues to push me to grow personally and professionally, on a weekly basis.  To those 1,500+ kids and counting and the staff at Ranken Jordan . . . Thank You.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Fun, Fun, Fun

Every day in pediatric hospitals across the countries miracles are being performed.  Many of these miracles are thanks to the advances in medical care, treatment, and the science behind both.  Doctors, nurses, and therapists everywhere are taking advantage of these improvements, combining them with advanced education, and helping to save and/or significantly improve the lives of thousands of children who not too long ago would not have survived or thrived.

One thing that seems to be changing slowly but surely throughout the medical world is the understanding that children heal best through play.  Many people may not realize this as their experience with hospitals is restricted to "traditional" hospitals.  In those hospitals they may see signs, as I recently did, that say "Shhh.  Please be quiet; healing in process."  However in the pediatric hospitals that are performing the miraculous recoveries that we hear about more and more often, being quiet is not encouraged.  Children are expected to get out of bed, socialize, play games, and have fun.  It is simply amazing what can be achieved when there is fun involved.  Attitudes are better (for patients and staff), cooperation goes up, and recovery happens faster and more thoroughly.

An area where I have seen the incredible recoveries is through the junior golf program at Ranken Jordan.  In the past I have often talked about watching a 13 year old young man take his first steps up to a putting green or discussed the recovery of a girl who was unable to sit up in her wheelchair for more than a few minutes and now hits balls by herself for over an hour straight.  Recently we have watched a boy drain putt after putt while laying on his stomach in his hospital bed.  Just a few short weeks later that same boy came in smiling and ready for golf . . . in his wheelchair.  Then there is the story of 9 year old Cooper.  Rather than me inadequately tell his story, please take a moment to click on the link below to read the wonderful article written by Al Tays for the Golf Channel's website.

Golf Program a Hit at Ranken Jordan Hospital in St. Louis

At 9 years old Cooper is one of the strongest, most inspirational people I have ever met.  From my vantage point the strength and inspiration is not shown from his 17 hip surgeries.  Every time I see Cooper I am completely in awe of his attitude.  Good luck finding him without a smile on his face.  He is always upbeat and ready for whatever may be put in front of him.  Cooper is mature beyond his years and whenever I have the opportunity to spend some time with him I come away from it wondering which one of us is the adult and which one is the child.  Maybe all of us "adults" need to take the time to learn something from this "child."

Saturday, November 2, 2013

"Training" Aids Galore

Go to any golf school and you will find a wide array of training aids to help improve your golf game.  You may see devices to keep you on plane, others that work on tempo, computer simulators & swing analyzers, impact bags, molded grips, alignment guides, putting guides, mirrors, etc.  This list is never ending and can go on and on.  Once you leave the practice area you can move to the fitness center and find even more aids that will help improve your "golf specific" muscles, flexibility, and balance.  After you fix your swing on the range and improve your strength, flexibility, and balance in the gym, you can pick up the books that work on the mental side of the game.  Whatever particular facet of the game you feel you need to work on there is some type of training aid there to help you.

Training aids are certainly a valuable tool that every golf professional has undoubtedly utilized at one point or another during a golf lesson.  Used properly they can enhance what almost every golfer gets out of their lesson time.  Despite their importance, I have yet to use any of these things in the most important golf instruction I do every week.  Instead the "training" aids we see during our golf clinics at Ranken Jordan include wheelchairs, hospital beds, casts, pulse-ox machines, ventilators, braces, gait belts, walkers, canes, crutches, and more.  Sometimes our junior golfers need only one or two of these items to allow them to play golf.  Other times they need 3, 4, 5, or more of these all too important "training" aids.  While these may not be traditional "training" aids, they are even more significant to the learning process for these junior golfers.

Without the variety of medical equipment that we see every week many of the kids would not have the opportunity to learn how to play golf.  They are vital not just to their recovery from a variety of medically complex issues, but also to their ability to get out, play, and be a kid.  In talking with others outside the hospital about this junior golf program, many times I hear "these kids can't play golf."  My reply to them is always the same:  "Of course they can!!"  When I see a new kid come to join us for golf and he happens to be in his hospital bed or she is in a wheelchair, my first thought is only "how can we get them playing golf?"  All of us who work week in and week out with the kids essentially ignore the neck braces, casts, wheelchairs, beds, etc.  To us nothing will keep these kids from hitting golf balls or rolling a few putts.

Those folks who work with kids in pediatric hospitals, whether they are medical professionals or volunteers, understand what is important as it relates to sports.  It does not matter how hard they throw a baseball, how many baskets they can make, or how far they can hit a golf ball.  All that matters is that they do it, enjoy it, and want to do it again next time.  Our golf program is all about putting a smile on the faces of the kids and allowing them to have fun.  We show them they can enjoy the game of a lifetime while they are in the hospital and also after they go home.  Golf is helping to improve their lives.  It is providing hope and showing them possibilities they may never have known existed for them.  One day soon thousands of kids every year will see these possibilities and begin learning a game that can take them from surviving to thriving.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Revisiting the "Why"

An issue that I addressed in one of the earliest posts on this blog is why I started the junior golf program at Ranken Jordan.  The simple answer to that is the one I gave in that early post:  "Why not?"  However in the months that have passed since writing that post I have been fortunate to have several in depth conversations with some of the kids, their families, Ranken Jordan staff, and other golf professionals around the country who work with physically challenged players.  Through these conversations it has become extremely clear that programs like this are much more than just exposing these kids to the game of golf.  Time spent playing golf is very meaningful to all of those involved, especially the kids.

During these conversations a variety of points have been raised that begin to make you realize what playing golf means to and does for the kids and their families.  Parents have shared with me how great it is to have the opportunity to play a sport with their child.  I have also heard from the parents what it means to the kids.  Take this quote as an example:

"My son has a love for sports.  Due to multiple hip surgeries he has been confined to a wheelchair most of his life. One of the many sports he loves is golf.  When he was a patient at Ranken Jordan he was able to fulfill one of his wishes.  That wish was to play golf.  Ranken Jordan offers children with disabilities so many wonderful opportunities, but their golf program was my son's favorite.  The golf professionals that came in were incredible.  They taught him how to swing a golf club in his wheelchair.  They took one of his dreams and made it a reality.  I was fortunate enough to witness the look of sheer happiness and confidence on his face as he saw that he was able to enjoy sports.  I am so grateful to Ranken Jordan and their program for allowing him to have this opportunity of a lifetime."

It does not take much discussion to quickly realize the significant positive impact golf has in the lives of medically complex children.  Whether it be a wish being fulfilled, showing them how they can play the game of a lifetime, or simply helping with their rehabilitation, the golf program has given these kids possibilities they likely did not realize were available to them.  By taking the kids to the golf course and putting them into single-passenger carts they have seen a level of independence that they did not know was there for them.  We have seen golf be the reason why a kid goes through their daily rehab (and in some cases golf has been the rehab).

These examples bring it back to the original point of why I started this program and why I am so excited every week when I get to the hospital.  The reason that comes to my mind and won't leave is that starting this program was the right thing to do.  I do not have a fancy explanation or long drawn out narrative explaining why.  It was just the right thing to do.  One smile or one high five following a well-struck shot or a holed putt is all the reason that I need.  I am fortunate to see first-hand what I consider to be miracles and hopefully play some small role in the recovery of these amazing kids.  Golf has given a tremendous amount to the more than 1,400 kids (and counting) who have been part of our program.  But the one who has been given the most is me.  To each and every one of the kids who has been to "golf day" . . . thank you.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Few More Stories

Most of the time when I sit down to write a blog post I try to come up with something different to talk about or at least discuss a topic that I haven't mentioned in a while.  This one, however, is not going to be like that.  Our golf clinic this morning at Ranken Jordan - A Pediatric Specialty Hospital in St. Louis, MO, was so incredible that I decided to do nothing more than talk about it in this post.  Even after 125 or so golf clinics there are still days like today that leave me totally amazed and defy description.

For those of you not in the St. Louis area this morning wasn't exactly ideal for golf.  Temperatures were in the low 60's and we had a steady rain all morning long.  Yes, many folks would pull on rain gear and tee it up regardless.  But those people don't have medical equipment that has to go with them everywhere and be plugged in to an electrical outlet.  Weather conditions like these show one of the reasons why Ranken Jordan is such a special facility.  Just because it is raining doesn't mean the kids will not be able to play golf.  We simply set up in either Warner's Corner or the gym and they play away!  Rain, snow, sleet, too cold, too hot . . . none of it prevents the kids from getting their golf in.  Not allowing the rainy weather to put a damper on spirits is only one reason why today was such a great day.  Three of the kids who played today left me in awe.

Warner's Corner indoor playground area at Ranken Jordan
The first junior golfer I have talked about many times in the past.  She is always one of the first ones to get to the tee, but today she was absent.  When we went to look for her we found her sitting by a window looking out at the dreary weather.  As soon as I knelt down next to her and asked if she wanted to play golf that big smile that we all know so well spread across her face.  The young lady who not too long ago could not swing the club by herself or play for more than a few minutes without needing to rest was on her way to the gym.  For the next hour she hit putt after putt, chipped a few balls into the net she was using as a target, and sent several shots sailing across the room with her sweet swing.  The entire time the smile never left her face.  I have watched first-hand her improvement as a golfer but most importantly her recovery and physical improvements.  Knowing that golf has played a role in improving her rehabilitation is a constant reminder to me that we are doing good things for the kids in our golf program.

Last week we had two new golfers join us.  The first of those arrived in a wheelchair and wearing a brace around his torso that would prevent him from making a full backswing.  Neither of those things stopped him from grabbing a driver and ripping drives that any seasoned player would be happy with.  Did I mention that was his first time picking up a golf club?  This week he was back and ready for more.  The only difference between last week and today was that he walked in rather than coming in his wheelchair.  During his time hitting balls he needed to take a couple of breaks, but those did not last long as he was anxious to keep working on the small change we made to his takeaway.  One small adjustment was all it took to have him sending shots soaring across the gym and banging off the wall.  Not only was I amazed to see the quality of shots he was hitting but to do so standing up was simply incredible!

Our other new golfer last week came to us in his hospital bed.  He was laying on his stomach but wanted to hit some golf balls.  Naturally we brought him over to an astroturf mat and hat him going before he knew it.  Of course his swing was limited in length but he made up for it in desire.  He constantly asked questions and only wanted to take short rests.  This week was no different.  After spending most of his time last week with the full swing he told us he wanted to learn how to putt this week.  I told him I would also like to learn how to putt but I would have him making putts in no time.  We spent most of our time working from about 6 feet and it was not long before he was routinely making 3 or 4 putts in a row!  Was I impressed, shocked, or in awe?  All of the above.  The great volunteers we have helping on a regular basis also felt the same way.

Days like today make it very easy to go back every week and work with the kids.  They enjoy it, the staff & volunteers enjoy it, and I enjoy it.  Most importantly the kids are having fun and getting better at the same time.  Many of these kids have been told they can't do something when they ask to get involved.  At Ranken Jordan that does not happen.  Our golf program follows in those same footsteps.  Any and every kid who wants to be a part of the program and learn how to play golf is welcomed with open arms.  Seeing their excitement and enthusiasm from week to week greatly contributes to the success of the junior golf program.  But the true definition of success comes from seeing the physical, mental, and emotional improvement in each of the kids as they learn the game of a lifetime.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Another Marathon Complete

Ask any golf professional about charity golf events and they will tell you that they are involved with them on a wide variety of levels.  We all host them at our golf courses.  Many golf professionals are on the golf committee for a cause that is close to their heart.  Play in one of the thousands of charity events and you will likely see at least one PGA Professional playing in the event to help support the charity.  Whatever the specific nature of involvement we all know how important these events are to our golf facility, the individual charity, and the community as a whole.

On multiple occasions on this blog I have written about my involvement with the Gateway PGA Section's Golf Day Marathon.  This is a season long even that asks our Section's professionals to commit to playing 100 holes of golf in one day.  Given our schedules and the amount of hours worked by a golf professional in season this is no small commitment!  The professionals who play get friends, relatives, members, and golfers at their course to pledge their financial support to raise money for selected charities.  This was the second year for the event in the Gateway PGA and on October 7, 2013, we held a "thank you" pro am event at Annbriar Golf Course for many of the generous donors.  The great day of golf was highlighted at dinner by the recognition of the charities and the check presentation.

This year we once again supported Hospice of Southern Illinois, Ranken Jordan - A Pediatric Specialty Hospital, and the Gateway PGA Foundation.  Two new charities that were involved this year were the Columbia (MO) Golf Foundation and Quincy (IL) Junior Golf.  After hosting, running, and playing in so many charity events it is particularly rewarding to be involved with the PGA Golf Day and see the impact our efforts have on our community through these charities.  I feel comfortable in saying that there is not one golf professional in our Section who has not had a direct experience with at least one of these charities.  In the Quincy area, Gideon Smith, PGA, has introduced a golf in school program to new junior golfers at each of the six Quincy elementary schools and will soon expand to Springfield, IL.  The money donated to the Columbia Golf Foundation will be used for a similar endeavor.  Hospice of Southern Illinois covers 27 counties throughout the area and provides a compassionate service to many people in the region.  The final few days of my mother's life were spent in hospice care and I cannot say enough good things about the work this organization does.  The Gateway PGA Foundation, led by MLB Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith, provides opportunities through golf to improve the lives of thousands of kids throughout the entire Gateway PGA Section (for more information on the Gateway PGA Foundation click HERE).

I feel I can talk much more about the work done at Ranken Jordan due to the amount of time I spend at that amazing facility.  While PGA Professionals spend many hours helping a wide variety of charities raise necessary funds, it is not often we see the direct benefit of how those dollars are used.  Every week when I walk through the doors at the building on Dorsett Avenue I see why I happily play 100 holes of golf in one day and encourage other golf professionals in our Section to do the same thing.  "Care beyond the bedside" is not just a phrase tossed around at Ranken Jordan, it is exactly what they do for the kids.  Air hockey, ping pong, Xbox, indoor & outdoor playground equipment, basketball, golf . . . sounds like a typical pediatric hospital, right?  These are just some of the activities you will see the kids engaged in on a daily basis.  At times you will see a child in a wheelchair swing a golf club without assistance for the first time, watch a kid laying on his stomach on a stretcher chip a ball into the bullseye of his target, or maybe you will watch a 13 year old young man take his first steps up to a putting green.  What you will always see are kids laughing, smiling, and playing, while being cared for by a staff who has a level of passion and dedication that is second to none.

2012 Gateway PGA Golf Day Marathon check presentation with Ozzie Smith

This year we were honored to be able to donate $10,500 to Ranken Jordan which brings the 2 year total to just over $21,000.  When you give this sum of money to an organization with a CEO like Lauri Tanner you know that nothing but good things will come from it.  We are very fortunate in St. Louis to have world class medical care like what the kids receive at Ranken Jordan.  As a Section we are also very fortunate to be involved and associated with all of the great charities we support through the PGA Golf Day.  Events like this are a great example of the good things that can be done with and through the game of golf.  And nights like last night, when this game affords me the opportunity to present checks in excess of $10,000 to multiple charities, make me very, very proud to be a PGA Professional.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Benefits In Abundance

Very often when I sit down to write a new blog post I find myself drawing a blank as I try to decide on a topic.  Of course those who know me best would say my mind being blank is not an uncommon occurrence!  What I have come to learn about this particular situation is that I am often overwhelmed by the amount of topics available.  Every week we see kids who provide us with so many great stories and memories that can be told.  After over 2 1/2 years of weekly junior golf clinics you can imagine the number of stories I have to attempt to keep straight!  We have no intention of stopping this program so the volume of stories will just continue to grow and grow.

When I look back from where we are at now to the beginning of the program I often times find myself wondering about the exact role golf has played in the recovery of some of the kids.  This past week at Ranken Jordan I was talking about this topic with one of the therapists when we saw one of our regulars on her way to the "tee" with an ever-present smile on her face.  Looking at her it was easy to figure out the role golf has played in her recovery.  This young lady has consistently been at our weekly golf clinics the entire time she has been at Ranken Jordan.  When she first started coming to golf we had to go hand-over-hand with her and she struggled to sit up in her wheelchair for more than a few minutes before needing a break.  Little by little her strength improved.  As this happened she was able to play golf for most of the hour that we are there every Tuesday.  Earlier this summer her strength had improved so much that she began taking swings on her own!  Now she sits up in her wheelchair for the entire hour, hits golf balls the entire time, and has a permanent smile etched on her face.  Golf has been a way for her to build her strength, stamina, and balance in a fun way and show her that she has something extra to look forward to when she leaves the hospital!

Stories about recoveries like this are not uncommon.  Many times in this blog I have described various stories about kids who have been a part of our junior golf program.  Every one of them has talked about how much fun they have playing golf and how they never dreamed it could be possible for them to play.  Putting a golf club in their hands has served as a catalyst in their recovery.  They are part of a sport that has allowed them to set very realistic, attainable goals . . . and then they work to reach those goals.  In many cases the time spent playing golf has served as part of their actual therapy.  The social and emotional improvements are also very noticeable.  Seeing the kids interact with each other on a weekly basis reminds everybody of the important role golf plays in the lives of these kids.

The other aspect I wonder about from time to time is what this junior golf program has meant to the Gateway PGA Section.  Being involved with a great facility like Ranken Jordan has certainly led to me being involved in a variety of golf tournaments, dinners, and other functions that I otherwise would not have been a part of.  But the Gateway PGA Section has also seen some benefits.  Recently I received an e-mail from our Executive Director, Josh Riley, PGA, explaining how the Section has benefited:

Ranken Jordan – A Pediatric Specialty Hospital is a special place to children across the country and to the Gateway PGA.  Through our charitable arm, the Gateway PGA Foundation, we have been able to donate equipment to the hospital.  The donation of equipment would be fruitless if not for the time that has been put in by local PGA Professionals.  The idea and the passion were brought forth by Kevin Corn, PGA.  The concept is simple from the view point that it is providing a reprieve for kids who battle through countless hours of rehabilitation and medical treatment.  However, the concept is much deeper when you look at the relationships that have been formed and the joy that exudes from a child when they realize they can play golf in their own special way.  The Ranken Jordan program has allowed the Gateway PGA to give back through golf while hopefully improving the outlook on a few kids’ lives.

To me it is a sign of a very successful junior golf program when everyone involved sees benefits.  I will be the first one to jump up and say I have seen countless personal and professional benefits from my involvement.  As you read in Josh Riley's comments the Gateway PGA has seen many benefits.  Ranken Jordan has seen happier kids, expanded therapy options, additional media attention, and donations from the Gateway PGA Golf Day.  The game of golf is growing and adding new players from the participants in our program (as well as family members, friends, Ranken Jordan staff members, etc).  But most importantly, the kids involved have received benefits.  Regardless of how everyone else has benefited or improved, none of it would matter if the kids were not having fun and getting better.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Possibility Awaits

Independence, dreams, possibilities.  These three words present limitless potential for millions of kids around the world.  Many days these kids get up and head off to school to learn what will be the foundation of their future careers.  Other days the kids get up and the  biggest decision they have to make is whether they will play baseball or basketball all day long.  They have the ability to make those decisions because their bodies allow them to.  They are not challenged by a left arm that refuses to work quite right or a right leg that may not be there anymore.  Nor do they have to worry about transferring themselves from their bed to their wheelchair.  Making sure someone is close by to change their oxygen tank (1 of 25 they will go through on a daily basis) is not a necessity.  Many of the kids who are not faced with these issues think they have it "rough" because they didn't get the newest video game as soon as it was released or their iphone is not the most recent model.

One day for any of these kids (or adults for that matter) in a pediatric hospital would most certainly change their perspective.  Spend 2 minutes in a pediatric oncology unit or talk to the kids in the cardiac ward and tell me that the video games or cell phones really matter.  Talk to the kid in the rehabilitation hospital who is learning to walk with his new prosthetic leg and explain to me how you can get upset because you hit your tee shot into the water.  You can't.  Yet while you talk to the kids in any of these areas you will see some common threads.  They are likely smiling more than you are.  Almost all of them (if not all) have a better perspective and outlook on life than you do.  All of them are working for some independence, they are creating and chasing their dreams, and they all want to know what possibilities await them when they are released to go home.

During their time in any type of pediatric medical facility kids will be presented with a wide variety of activities to minimize boredom and keep them smiling.  However many of these activities are designed to keep them in their bed, hospital room, or wheelchair.  Most facilities do not embrace "care beyond the bedside" like I have been witness to.  This is where golf comes in to play.  Golf gets the kids up, out of bed, and moving.  It puts a smile on their face, makes them laugh, and has them interacting with their peers.  Long drive challenges are extended to therapists or golf professionals (and it is amazing how often the kids win!).  And guess what else it gives them?  Golf gives them independence, a new set of dreams, and it gives them possibilities.

Of course golf can and should be incorporated into the therapy of any of these kids.  There are many physical benefits from playing the game.  However as big as the physical benefits are the emotional and sociological improvements the kids see.  Seeing the smile on the face of a junior golfer as he is on the golf course and driving a golf cart for the first time is indescribable.  Watch a girl give a little fist pump after she makes her 5th straight putt and try not to smile.  Or  you can observe the look on the face of the man working in the golf store who clearly does not think Zakki Blatt can hit the driver he has selected.  That man was quickly proved wrong as shot after shot was ripped into the simulator screen.  Golf has given all of these kids a level of independence and allowed them to dream new dreams.  Soon golf will also give them possibilities.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A New Role

Golf Instructor.  Merchandiser.  Tournament Administrator.  Business Analyst.  Golf Car Fleet Manager.  Junior Golf Leader.  Player.  Food & Beverage Manager.  Golf Club Cleaner.  Membership Sales.  Public Relations.  Range Ball Picker.  Caddy Master.  Rules Official.

These are only a few of the many different roles PGA Professionals take on each and every day.  I kept the list short as it could go on for pages.  Many people do not realize the varied job duties that are required from every professional on staff to efficiently operate a golf course every day.  If you ask most people what PGA Professionals do every day they will reply "play golf and give lessons."  Unfortunately nothing could be further from the truth for most of us!  During our 12 or 14 hour days we have to assume roles that at times aren't exactly glamorous in order to provide the best possible experience for each of the golfers on the course every day.

Upon entering the golf business most professionals know they are going to work long hours, play very little golf, and give fewer lessons than what they would like.  That is the direction our industry has turned in recent years with no sign of going back anytime soon.  My personal opinion is that many decision makers in the golf business have lost sight of what drives the industry:  the game.  They have forgotten that if people do not enjoy playing and have fun while on the course that they will stop playing, or at the very least play less.  The reason we all entered this profession is because of an inherent love for the game and too often we spend more time in board rooms than on the course interacting with our players.

Times like this are when it is essential that PGA Professionals step up and show that we are the experts in the game.  Yes we can also handle the business but most importantly we are experts in the game of golf.  How do we do this?  One way is to find new areas to introduce potential players to the game and show people just how fun golf can be.  Isn't that why you play a game, to have fun?  You know what happens in every pediatric hospital I walk into and teach the kids how to play golf?  Every one of the kids has fun.  They laugh.  They smile.  They get to know other people who they may have never interacted with if it wasn't for golf.  And while they're at it they get in a little bit of therapy without realizing it is happening.

The kids aren't the only ones having fun.  The PGA Professionals are having fun.  The therapists, doctors, and nurses are having fun, also.  All of us are getting back to the root reason for why we play.  Along the way we are also developing relationship with some of the kids that prove to be very special.  We are providing mentoring without knowing it.  We are giving them hope and something to look forward to when they leave the hospital.  Maybe focusing on the fun is too simplistic of an approach for many in the golf industry to understand.  There are no fancy presentations with colorful graphs and year-to-year comparisons.  All we have is a bunch of kids having fun.  I have had mothers of kids in our program tell me that what we are doing is "magic" and that we have "made dreams come true."  Trying to have fun could be the way to show the child in all of us the magic this game possesses and allow us to see our dreams come true.