How To Help

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

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Giving With Golf

Throughout the years golfers have always been very willing to give their time and money to support a vast array of causes and charities.  Since 1937, the PGA Tour alone has donated in excess of $1.8 billion to over 3,000 charities.  Yes, you read that correct, $1.8 billion.  That number does not include the many foundations and personal charities of the men who have played on Tour.  Nor does it include the money donated from the LPGA and the ladies who play on that tour.  Numbers like these show why golf is the most generous of all the professional sports.

But the charity and giving is not limited to the professional tours.  One of the most well-known charities, the Folds of Honor Foundation, was started by PGA Professional and F-16 Fighter Pilot Major Dan Rooney.  The Folds of Honor Foundation raises money for the spouses and children of soldiers killed or disabled in service to our country.  There are a variety of ways this great organization raises their funds, but the most well known is Patriot Golf Day.  Every year over Labor Day weekend, golfers have the opportunity to donate at thousands of golf courses around the country.  Thousands of scholarships have been given to military families thanks to the millions of dollars donated to the Folds of Honor.  To learn more please visit

These examples begin to lead to the point of this post.  When I first approached Josh Riley, Gateway PGA Executive Director, about the Gateway PGA becoming involved with the junior golf program at Ranken Jordan, he was beyond excited and supportive of the idea.  Little did I know what this support would lead to.  Because of the involvement and support of the Gateway PGA Foundation, the junior golf program at Ranken Jordan would not cost the hospital one dime.  In addition to the financial support of the Foundation, one of our Section's biggest events, PGA Golf Day, directly benefits Ranken Jordan.

Started in 2012, the Gateway PGA joined several other sections around the country in conducting the PGA Golf Day, an event that calls for golf professionals to play 100 holes in 1 day, 1 ball at a time, and 1 hole at a time.  Professionals will receive pledges from donors for each hole played and that money will go to multiple charities throughout our section.  One of the charities is Ranken Jordan.  At the conclusion of last year's event Gateway PGA Foundation President and MLB Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith presented Ranken Jordan CEO Lauri Tanner a check for almost $11,000.  As I sat watching the presentation I could not have been prouder knowing that the creation of the junior golf program played a small role in the relationship we have established with a facility as amazing as Ranken Jordan.

Through PGA Golf Day anybody and everybody can get involved and contribute to Ranken Jordan, Hospice of Southern Illinois, the Gateway PGA Foundation, and many other charities throughout the Gateway PGA Section.  To learn more about this great event please visit Of course if you prefer to donate directly to the junior golf program at Ranken Jordan that is ok, too.  I still want to add an OptiShot simulator for the kids to use along with the TV and computer it needs!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Let Them Play!

For many the title of this post takes them back to the classic baseball movie featuring Walter Matthau, Tatum O'Neal, Jackie Earle Haley, and many others, about the group of misfits who turn the little league world upside down.  While that may be the case, and the original Bad News Bears movie is the first thing I think of when I hear those three words, in this instance it relates to something totally different.  When I think of those three words now, my mind goes to the kids at Ranken Jordan who have so much fun during their weekly golf clinics.

In recent years the PGA of America, an organization of which I am very proud to say I am a member, and the United States Golf Association have placed a tremendous emphasis on growth of the game.  Given the lousy economy our country has faced for several years and the decline in the golf industry this is totally understandable.  At times I feel that they are missing a large segment of potential golfers who are excited about learning and playing the game.  This group of people would include the kids I work with at Ranken Jordan and those in similar situations across the country.  Think about it this way, when one of these kids decides he or she wants to continue playing golf after they leave the hospital, they will very likely require at least 1 person to go with them.  It is unlikely that person will always just sit and watch.  At some point they will pick up a club and start playing.  Suddenly we have 2 or 3 new people interested in and playing the game of golf.

The big question becomes how do we get these kids and their families interested in golf?  Simple.  We take the game to them.  That is exactly what we have done at Ranken Jordan and it is what is done in the programs in Dallas and south Florida.  To grow the game of golf we cannot rely on people to come to us.  At some point we as PGA Professionals and other industry "experts" have to be proactive and take the game to people who could enjoy learning and playing.  This is where the PGA and USGA can, and should, get involved.  Developing a national initiative that takes the game to kids in pediatric hospitals in each of the 41 PGA Sections would be a dream come true for me.  It didn't take me long to understand how important this program is to the kids at Ranken Jordan.  Once I saw that I started asking why is there not at least 1 similar program in every PGA Section.

Almost every PGA Section has multiple pediatric facilities that would benefit from a junior golf program.  As I mentioned in a recent post the financial requirements are very low to start a program (thanks to the very reasonable pricing of U.S. Kids Golf clubs).  Equipment needs are minimal and do not take up a great deal of storage space when not in use.  Because of using the Almost golf balls space requirements are greatly reduced (and the ability to work indoors is a huge bonus).  I know that there are many Golf Professionals in every section who would do a wonderful job working with kids in pediatric hospitals.  So why don't we have at least 41 of these programs?  That is a question that is still unanswered but one of my goals with this blog is that other PGA Professionals will read it and decide that they want to start a similar program in their area.

To those of you outside the St. Louis metropolitan area who are reading this, I challenge you to find a local pediatric facility and start a junior golf program (if you are not a PGA Professional I can put you in touch with one).  For those of you in the St. Louis metropolitan area, I challenge you to forward this to someone outside our area who would be interested in starting a junior golf program at a pediatric facility.  To reach my goal of 1 of these programs in each of the 41 PGA Sections it will require your help in spreading the word about the few programs already enjoying tremendous success.  Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have.

Friday, February 15, 2013

What It Takes

There are many "standard" questions I am asked when people first learn about the junior golf program at Ranken Jordan.  One of those questions is what it takes to start a program like this.  Many would be surprised at how little is actually needed to get a successful junior golf program off the ground.  Adapted clubs are not necessary.  The special carts you see people like famous trick shot artist Dennis Walters using aren't necessary.  Just what is needed?  Read on and you will find out.

The first thing to look for is a facility that has a reasonable amount of space to conduct golf clinics.  This space does not have to be outside!  Since our program at Ranken Jordan is year-round, and St. Louis weather can be quite severe at times, we spend quite a bit of time indoors.  Ranken Jordan has a wonderful facility that includes two different areas, the primary being Warner's Corner, that allow us to have golf clinics inside.  Any time the weather allows we will go outside to a large grass field that is perfect for the kids to hit golf balls on.  This field is large enough that each kid can have individual targets so they all get the thrill of having a "hole in one!"

Given the complex medical conditions many of the children are faced with, and the fact that many of the kids are confined to wheelchairs, you might think adapted golf clubs are necessary.  That would be an incorrect assumption.  Thanks to the generosity of U.S. Kids Golf, we have a large selection of standard length and lie angle junior clubs.  This was done for two reasons.  First, cost was a factor.  Adapted clubs are significantly more expensive than the standard clubs.  We wanted to be able to have as many clubs as possible so no kids would have to wait their turn to hit because of a shortage of clubs.  This would not have been possible without using U.S. Kids Golf clubs.  Second, and most important, we wanted each of the children who participate in the clinics to be able to go into any golf shop or off course store and buy golf clubs of their own once they are out of the hospital.  This is one more way to show these kids that there is no reason they cannot play golf if they want to!

One other vital piece of equipment which has allowed us to conduct clinics both outdoors and indoors is the Almost Golf Ball.  These golf balls are similar to a firm Nerf ball.  They are soft enough that they won't break skin or glass yet hard enough to give a very good idea of ball flight.  Having multiple colored golf balls has proven to be very beneficial.  One of the kids who has been in the golf program had a serious issue with his eyesight.  Because he had a hard time differentiating some colors from others, the orange golf balls were the only ones he could see.  This is one thing we had not anticipated, but because we had 4 different colors for him to pick from, he was able to play golf during his stay at Ranken Jordan.

When you hear about needing multiple sets of clubs and dozens upon dozens of practice golf balls you might think the cost starts rising quickly.  Add to that the time for each of the golf professionals and a program like this has to cost a fortune, right?  Wrong.  The initial investment in the golf clubs, golf balls, and a variety of targets was less than $800.  The golf professionals involved in the program have donated 100% of their time.  As I stated in earlier blog posts, this program has not cost Ranken Jordan one dollar.  And with continued support from the Gateway PGA and PGA Golf Day ( it never will cost the hospital anything.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Helping Hands

A program like we have at Ranken Jordan does not happen by accident.  It takes a tremendous amount of hard work and dedication from those directly involved with the program.  It also takes help from others who do not always receive the credit they deserve.

As for those who have been directly involved and extremely instrumental in the ongoing success of this program, the staff at Ranken Jordan is at the top of the list.  Janine Roe, Jon Loesch, and Eric Wallach have devoted countless hours and energy to help encourage the kids to play and practice as often as they want.  Lauri Tanner, CEO & President of Ranken Jordan, has provided unwavering support from day 1.  She, Brett Moorehouse, and the board of directors saw the significance of this amazing program and have encouraged us to take it as far as we can . . . and then some!  The other people who have had a direct and important impact on the program are the local PGA Professionals who have helped provide instruction.  It doesn't take them any more than 1 visit to see why this program is so important to me!

The Gateway PGA Foundation and Josh Riley, Executive Director of the Gateway PGA, have been more generous and giving than I could have ever imagined.  When I approached Josh about getting involved with this program he jumped at the opportunity.  He and the Foundation's board have ensured that the junior golf program at Ranken Jordan would not cost the hospital a cent.  Not only that, but our annual Golf Day 100 Hole Marathon contributes a portion of the money raised to Ranken Jordan.  Last year's event was able to donate almost $11,000 to Ranken Jordan!  This year we hope to double that amount (

While looking back at the first two years of the program I see ways that I would like to improve and expand what we offer to the kids.  Each of these ideas will require community support.  One idea came as a result to Dave & Buster's where several of the kids got to "play" Pebble Beach on the golf simulator!  Over the next few months I would like to add an OptiShot golf simulator system for the kids to use at Ranken Jordan.  The other primary addition I would like to make to the program involves getting them on the course for some competition!  In the long run I can see it including other hospitals and a full-blown golf tournament for the kids!

While this blog entry doesn't focus on specific stories about the kids or the reasons behind starting the program, it illustrates the wide variety of folks involved in making the junior golf program successful.  I hope it will show other professionals that there are ways to start a similar program with minimal financial burden to the pediatric facility.  I also hope somebody would like to help make the goal of adding an OptiShot simulator system a reality!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Two of a Kind

This past summer I played in the fund-raising tournament held each summer to benefit Ranken Jordan.  As our group was driving up to the 18th tee we noticed 2 carts waiting for us.  Sitting in those carts were two of the best young junior golfers I have ever worked with (of course they weren't just sitting there for long as both of them had to play a couple of holes while they were there).  I have worked with other junior golfers who hit the ball farther or could shoot lower scores.  But none of those other juniors had the determination and courage that these two young men possess.  Here is why these two always left me in awe of their ability and attitude.

The first young man had to be coaxed into giving golf a try.  The first time he came to Warner's Corner to see what we were doing he was asked if he wanted to hit some shots.  His response was, "I don't want to.  Golf is stupid."  About 10 minutes before the clinic was over I looked over to see him push his wheelchair up to a golf bag and grab a putter.  He started hitting putts . . . and making almost all of them!  We let him do his own thing and stayed at a distance.  The next week he decided he'd hit some putts but that was it.  Sure enough, about 10 minutes before the end of the clinic he started hitting some chip shots.  The same thing happened the following week when he began taking longer swings.  It wasn't long before he was asking the therapists to get the golf clubs out during the week so he could practice!  Before he was discharged from Ranken Jordan he joined us at a local restaurant that has a golf simulator.  We were able to move things around to accommodate his wheelchair and he wound up getting to "play" a few holes at Pebble Beach Golf Links.  Following his discharge he has e-mailed me several times to let me know when he's going to the golf course or driving range.  Not bad for someone who only a few short weeks before had no interest in playing because "golf is stupid!"

The second young man is also confined to a wheelchair.  He played a variety of sports, and was good in all of them, before a tragic accident took away the use of his legs.  Not surprisingly, he began to play wheelchair basketball and has excelled at that.  Before coming to Ranken Jordan he had never played golf.  The second he picked up a golf club it was obvious he was going to be very good very quickly.  He started bombing the ball across the field we use.  It wasn't long before we started working on small mechanical issues in his swing to improve his ball striking and consistency.  When we visited the driving range at a local golf course, he was hitting his driver about 125 yards and dead straight!  All of us there working with the kids that day were blown away.

Both of these young men have continued to play since leaving the hospital.  You might think that being confined to a wheelchair would hinder their ability to play and enjoy golf.  Not so with these two.  Both of them learned quickly that they enjoyed the game and were determined to play it to the best of their ability.  Each of them showed up for the weekly clinics with a smile on their face.  They each hit ball after ball after ball for an hour.  Many times I stayed after the clinic so they could keep hitting.  These are only two of the many inspirational stories I will share through this blog.  Hopefully you will enjoy reading the stories as much as I enjoy telling them!

Saturday, February 2, 2013


The decision to start a junior golf program at Ranken Jordan was a very easy one to make.  With ample room outside and Warner’s Corner playground area inside, they have plenty of room to offer a year-round program.  But the question that I had to answer was the same one that is often asked when talking about this program:  Why?  The response I came up with then is the same as it is now:  Why not?  Why shouldn’t these amazing kids have the opportunity to learn how to play the game that so many of us turn to for relaxation and use as an “escape?”  Once that question was answered the next issue was how to make the concept a reality.

In the late winter and spring of 2011, I had several meetings with Janine Roe, CTRS, Community Programs Coordinator at Ranken Jordan.   During these meetings we created the basic outline of the golf program.  It was also decided that we would go into it without a lesson plan of any kind.  As a PGA Professional accustomed to creating lesson plans for all students and clinics, this was a difficult way to enter a junior golf program!  However, because of the serious, complex medical conditions affecting many of the kids, a lesson plan simply was not possible.  Please click the link below to see more:

Almost 2 years since the first clinic we still do not operate with a lesson plan.  Each week we work with the children who are able to attend and adapt our teaching according to their physical limitations.  Why is this?  There are no instructional programs I have been involved with where one of the students states his goal is “I want to learn to walk again.”  (Luckily that young man reached his goal just a few short weeks later.  I will expand on that in more detail in a later post).  When faced with situations like this it is quite difficult to plan what will be taught from week to week.  All we want to do is provide an experience that leaves the kids excited and ready for the next week’s session.  Many times I have been told that kids have asked the therapists to get the golf equipment out during the week!

Having the ability to adapt and change on the fly is crucial to the success of a program like this.  Each week we see different kids with different abilities.  Those kids who are required to spend an extended amount of time at Ranken Jordan will see such a change in their physical ability that we have to constantly change our teaching with them.  One week a kid may be playing as a right-handed player.  The next week they may have to play left-handed.  And then there are those weeks where a kid gets out of his wheelchair, walks up to the ball, and takes a swing while standing for the first time.  Those are the times when change is the most necessary . . . and the most rewarding.