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, March 31, 2013

Dreams Become Reality

In earlier blog posts I have tackled the question of "why" as it relates to the junior golf program at Ranken Jordan.  This post will expand on those earlier comments and provide some feedback received from patients and parents.  The moment somebody takes the time to walk into a facility like Ranken Jordan and help the kids the answer clearly becomes, as I have said before, "Why not?".  All it takes is one made putt, a good chip shot, or the click made by a well-struck 8 iron, to light up a smile on the face of the kids that will have anyone begging to go back.

Many times throughout the two years we have had this program I have been fortunate enough to see those smiles.  Not only do those smiles keep me going back but they have me asking what else can I do?  The smallest things that many golfers take for granted will often times fulfill a dream for these kids.  If you took the time to read the St. Louis Post-Dispatch article written by Joe Strauss you will recall the mother of one of the patients saying of the golf program, "This is magic."  There have been many of those magical moments and there are certainly many more to come.  But exactly what is it that these kids get out of the program that makes it magical?  Read these comments from kids and parents and see what you think:

"It helped me do things I didn't think I could do."

"Playing golf was a time where I can do something to turn a bad day into a good day."

"Participating in the golf program at Ranken Jordan benefited my son because it engaged him in a familiar and enjoyable activity, encouraged movement and athleticism, all the while allowing him to re-learn and utilize former skills."

"It helped me communicate with people and get to know them much better who I otherwise would not have known."

Several times since starting this program I have had the honor and pleasure of receiving a note from a parent or one of the junior golfers.  I am not too proud to say that every time I get one of these it brings tears to my eyes.  To know that this program has had such a profound impact on the life of any of the kids is simply amazing.  I will close this post with the words received from a mother of one of the kids who enjoyed the program the most . . . and provided us with some of the most entertaining clinics!

"My son has a love for sports.  Due to multiple 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 pros 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 my son's 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 is one of the many things that makes Ranken Jordan such a special place."

Actually, ma'am, I am the one who is grateful for being allowed to teach golf to your son and these amazing kids at this special place.  Thank you.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

If You Build It . . .

As you may imagine, it is quite difficult for many of the kids we see at Ranken Jordan to have regular access to golf courses once they are discharged from the hospital and go home.  Part of this is uncontrollable due to their physical limitations.  But another part of it is totally controllable.  This part would include having the necessary carts available for the kids or simply having an area of the driving range that is easily accessible by those who either cannot walk or have difficulty walking.  Almost all of the kids who participate in our golf program do not require getting on the actual golf  course to have fun.  They simply enjoy getting out on the driving range to hit some balls.  Would they enjoy going out on the course to play?  Absolutely.  And there is no reason why they shouldn't be able to if they want to.  Unfortunately the specialized golf carts that many would need are very expensive and at times difficult to find.  As an alternative to the expense related to these carts, golf courses could provide an area at the driving range for these kids to easily access.  You would think this would be standard because of federal regulations set forth by the ADA but it is simply not the case.

One organization that is doing their part to provide an opportunity for golfers with disabilities to play is the Missouri Golf Association.  Scott Hovis, Executive Director, has unveiled a plan for a 100% accessible golf course to be built at their headquarters at Turkey Creek in Jefferson City, Missouri.  The 18 hole course will have no hole greater than 120 yards in length, continuous cart paths, and greens made of a synthetic surface that will allow carts onto the greens in all conditions.  You may read "synthetic greens" and cringe.  However, for those of you who have not seen some of the new options for turf you would be amazed at what is out there now.  I would have no issues putting on artificial greens.  In fact, many PGA Tour players have synthetic greens at their homes to practice on when they are not on the road.  This project is just one of many exciting things happening within Missouri and the Gateway PGA Section.

The 74th Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid will be at Bellerive Country Club in May.  One factor that played a significant role in the PGA awarding this championship to Bellerive was the creation of the PGA REACH program.  This program looks to measurably improve and advance opportunities for St. Louis youth to succeed in life.  Rather than create an entirely new charity to start working from scratch, the great minds behind this program decided to partner with existing charities to enhance the programs already in place.  The focus of PGA REACH is to keep kids in school thereby improving their future economic opportunities and provide healthy recreational alternatives to keep them on the right track.  The PGA of America thought so highly of this program that they will be taking it to a national level and incorporating it into every championship they run in the future.  Josh Riley and the group assembled who created this should be commended for their great work!  You can read more about the program by clicking this link:  PGA REACH article.

The Gateway PGA is working in other areas to grow the game of golf across all demographics.  Recently they announced the PGA H.O.P.E. (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere) program that affords wounded and disabled vets, both active and retired, the opportunity to learn and play the game of golf.  This program will work hand-in-hand with the VA hospital at Jefferson Barracks to show our military personnel how they can still play, or learn to play, a game they will love (although at times it will frustrate them to no end!).  Fund raising efforts like the Boots on the Greens golf tournament will help provide the means necessary to have the required equipment and instruction available.

It is evident from reading the posts on this blog that my focus is centered around growing the opportunities to learn the game of golf to kids in pediatric hospitals or rehabilitation facilities.  However, golf can have a tremendous therapeutic effect on people from all walks of life whether able-bodied or not.  Continuing to expose people from every demographic group is vital to the long-term success of golf.  I strongly encourage anyone taking the time to read this to find a program that is important to you and support it.   Of course my preference would be the junior golf program at Ranken Jordan, but supporting any type of golf program similar to the ones mentioned in this post would be wonderful.  Not only will the active participants benefit from your support, but you will have the satisfaction of knowing you contributed to the success of an amazing golfer development program.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Children First

"Consider the children first in all that you do."  Those were the words that the people who knew Mrs. Mary Ranken Jordan heard regularly.  Countless people she didn't know heard them often and thousands today still hear them, 51 years after her passing.  She didn't just say those words, she lived them.  Nine words were the driving force behind her motivation to establish the Ranken Jordan Home for Convalescent Crippled Children in 1941.  Seventy-two years later her vision and passion has led to the current location of Ranken Jordan - A Pediatric Specialty Hospital in Maryland Heights, MO.

Mrs. Jordan's quote is brought to life every day at Ranken Jordan.  It is an incredible facility staffed by some very special people.  These people embody the words that Mrs. Jordan believed so strongly in.  Through their compassion and strength, thousands upon thousands of children have gone on to live better, more productive lives than many outside this hospital would have ever thought possible.  These people are at Ranken Jordan because they are good at what they do, love what they do, and most importantly, consider the children first in all they do.

These same traits are evident in a wide spectrum of people involved with Ranken Jordan.  The Board of Directors, led by Steve Cortopassi, have as much passion for the facility and the kids as anybody.  Last summer I made a presentation about the golf program to the Board and it was obvious they were as excited about the kids playing golf as anybody!  What was supposed to be a 10-12 minute presentation turned into double that because of the questions and discussion following my initial statements.  A facility like this would not be anywhere near as successful if they did not have people like this from the top to bottom of the organization.

Another very important group of people associated with Ranken Jordan are those who contribute financially.  Without them the hospital would not be able to do all of the amazing things that are done on a daily basis.  There are a variety of ways to contribute and a number of ways those who give are recognized.  One of those levels is the Mary Ranken Jordan Society which includes anyone who contributes $1,000 or more in a calendar year.  Each year this group presents their Service to Children Award which recognizes individuals in the St. Louis region who demonstrate their commitment to the ideals established by Mrs. Jordan, to serve and help children, and, by example, encourage others to do the same.  This year I had the incredibly humbling honor of receiving the Service to Children Award.  When Lauri Tanner, President & CEO of Ranken Jordan, called to inform me of the honor, I was totally speechless (those of you who know me best know how hard to believe that is!).  The link below is for the video shown the night of the dinner.

In the criteria for those who receive the award it is specified that the person will, by example, encourage others to serve and help children.  As I have repeatedly mentioned in earlier posts, that is one of the major factors behind writing this blog.  I want to see these types of programs all over the country and around the world.  Giving so little of your time and energy can have such a tremendous impact on the lives of those children you are helping.  Some will continue to play golf when they leave the hospital and some will never again pick up a club.  But all of them will have enjoyed it and grown from the experience.  Through my posts I hope that I have conveyed the significance programs like this can have in the lives of the kids.  I also hope others across the United States and around the world will understand this and establish programs of their own.  And somewhere I hope an angel is smiling down at her boy with great pride in what he has done.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

These Kids Can Play!

One of the great things about being a PGA Professional is waking up each morning and having the opportunity to do something for a living that I am truly passionate about.  I clearly remember standing on the driving range as a 16 year old participant in a junior golf camp at PGA National with LPGA Hall of Famer Annette Thompson, PGA Professional Warren Bottke, Evie Jo Larrimore, and several other instructors, and telling Annette, "I want to do what you do for a living."  Of course part of this decision had to do with the fact that I much prefer going to work in a golf shirt rather than a dress shirt and tie as well as being at a golf course instead of an office building.  But the primary reason was that is the time I realized I thoroughly enjoy helping other people have more fun playing golf.

Anybody who plays golf knows how frustrating it can be.  And anybody who plays golf knows that no matter how frustrated you get you will play again . . . eventually.  The part I enjoy is taking that frustrated golfer to the range, making a tweak or two, and seeing the light go on once they realize what it is they need to do.  Next thing you know they are going straight to the first tee.  In almost every instance, anyone who has played the game for an extended period of time will see that what was causing them to hit less than perfect shots was only a minor issue.  In golf small changes can lead to great improvements and rewards.

The same premise applies for a beginning golfer as well as the kids we see at Ranken Jordan.  Many times those players who have yet to be exposed to the game have the perception that golf is too hard for them to start.  I never tire of seeing a kid's face light up when they make their first putt or hit that first crisp shot that makes them say, "Hey, I can do this!"  That concept is one of the major things we try to make very clear to the patients at Ranken Jordan.  Regardless of their physical limitations, each one of them can participate in golf on some level.  There are those kids who may not be able to do more than hit some balls at the driving range or play a couple of holes.  Then there are others who will be able to play a full round.  Whatever the case may be, they all should be shown that they can play and be given the opportunity to determine if they want to play.

Since my last post I have had the privilege of talking to several pediatric facilities, golf professionals, and business people from around the country (and world for that matter) about starting a similar junior golf program in their area.  I want this trend to continue.  Hopefully in future posts I will be able to tell you about new programs being started in cities around the country.  There are many pediatric facilities in each of our 41 PGA Sections and I hope we can touch as many as possible.  Whether or not the kids who participate in the clinics while they are in the hospital continue to play once they are out, we should still try to put a program like this in as many hospitals as we can.  If nothing else, the clinics can create a distraction from the challenges they are facing and allow them to get more out of their therapy, rehab, or healing process.  And, as it relates to golf, we show them that they can play and let them make the decision if they want to play.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Growth of the Game

In a recent post you read about my feelings centered around growing junior golf programs like the one we have at Ranken Jordan.  I am very passionate in believing that there should be at least 1 of these programs in each of the 41 PGA Sections.  Currently there are programs in 3 sections (Gateway, South Florida, & North Texas).  What can be done about this and how can we start seeing more junior golf programs at pediatric hospitals throughout the country?  There is one simple answer:  you can help!

Some of you will read that answer and think, "I am not a golf professional or involved with pediatric medical care.  How in the world can I help?"  Easy.  You most likely know of a pediatric hospital somewhere near where you live.  Or maybe you have a life-long friend who works at a pediatric hospital.  If you play golf you possibly take lessons from a PGA Professional who would be excited to get involved with a junior program like this.  After all, the PGA and the USGA are focused on growing the game, especially at the junior level.

Here is how those of you who are not golf professionals can help.  This will require some feedback from you so feel free to post a comment or e-mail me.  What I would like to see from anyone outside the St. Louis area is a pediatric hospital, a PGA Professional, or both, that would be good candidates for establishing a junior golf program similar to the one at Ranken Jordan.  Those of you who live in or near St. Louis, get in touch with friends or relatives outside this area and see what suggestions they have.  Please do not feel that you have to find both a pediatric hospital and a golf professional.  If you provide information on just one of those two I will find the other one.

I am sure there are plenty of my fellow PGA Professionals around the country who are reading this as well and the same request is made of you.  Let me know of a pediatric facility near you that would be a good place to start a junior golf program.  You don't necessarily have to be involved but trust me when I tell you that you will get as much or more out of the program than the kids will.  If you are in an area that does not have a pediatric hospital nearby then contact one of your peers who is.  As PGA Professionals we are expected to build and improve the game of golf.  You will be completely blown away when you see the type of impact you can have on the kids and their families by getting involved with one of these junior programs. Knowing intimately the hours worked by a PGA Professional, I understand the hesitation of some of not wanting to commit to additional responsibility.  However there are ways to make it work if you really want to.  And if you want to make an impact on the game of golf as well as on people in general, this is a great way to do it.

With the almost immediate exchange of information available in today's world thanks to current technology, it should not be overly difficult for everybody reading this to find answers to the questions I have posed.  Through your help junior golf programs like the one at Ranken Jordan can become more commonplace than what they currently are.  Every week I see the impact the game of golf is having on the kids while they recover from a wide variety of complex medical conditions.  Now that I have that knowledge, I would be totally remiss if I did not do my part to spread these programs as much as possible.  I thank you in advance for your help and look forward to all of your answers!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Hearts of Champions

Anyone who has spent anytime at a driving range or golf course playing golf knows the physical demands placed on your body by a golf swing.  The golf swing twists, torques, and contorts the body in such ways that a golfer will at times feel like a pretzel.  After a short practice session or quick round golfers can already feel the soreness in their shoulders, back, neck, hips, etc. (and sometimes in a wisdom tooth).  Oftentimes this pain will be enough to keep them from playing the next day or if the injury is severe enough it could put them on the disabled list for an extended period.

 Having the ability to block out the pain and play through it is something that few athletes in any sport possess.  This morning I met a brand new junior golfer who not only has the ability to play through pain, but he does it with a smile on his face.  On Tuesday this young man had surgery on not one but both of his legs.  Following his surgery both legs were placed in casts going from mid-thigh to his toes.  Naturally he is confined to a wheelchair while his legs heal.  He spent a few days in the hospital and then was moved to Ranken Jordan.  When asked 4 short days later if he wanted to play golf it would have been completely understandable if his reply had been negative.  It was anything but negative.  He excitedly grabbed a putter and started listening to anything and everything that would make him better.

It did not take long to realize that we were working with a natural putter!  He quickly learned the basics of a smooth stroke and began making putts on a regular basis.  Forty-five minutes after he started he was still going strong and excited that his mom had just arrived to watch him.  Not long after his mom got there he was telling her exactly what he wanted for his birthday:  an indoor putting mat, putter, and golf balls!  It never ceases to amaze me how quickly these kids pick up the game regardless of the physical limitations they are dealing with.  They show the same determination and drive to improve that any kid shows in every junior golf clinic across the country.  When you see the ear-to-ear smile after another made putt you are quick to remember why this program is so important.  And then there are those kids who tell you "I want to learn how to walk again" . . . and then they do it.

For those of you who have followed the blog from its inception you may recall that I mentioned that quote in a previous post.  In my almost 20 years in the golf industry I have worked with hundreds and hundreds of kids in private and group instruction and thought I had heard every conceivable goal (often they do not relate to golf but the kids tell us nonetheless).  Until this past fall I had never heard "I want to learn how to walk again."  Yes, this caught me a bit off guard.  And no, I did not have a clue how to respond.  All I could do was hand the young man a putter and move his wheelchair up to the putting green.

Over the next few weeks he came to golf regularly.  His putting got better in a hurry.  He learned how to hit chip shots and even took a few swings with the driver.  He did all of this from his wheelchair.  And then there was the day a couple of weeks before Christmas when he had me totally and utterly speechless.  On this particular Saturday he arrived for golf with several members of his family.  This is not abnormal at all.  We very often have family members come to watch and cheer on the kids.  The thing that caught my eye was the stander that was brought along.  When it came time to hit a few putts, the therapists helped him get properly situated with his stander.  He pulled himself up and was quickly strapped in to prevent him from falling.  We all watched in awe as he took several steps to the putting green, hit about 20 putts, and then walked back to his wheelchair.  There was nobody in the gym with dry eyes.

While most golfers, myself at the top of that list, will take off a few days because of pain or a minor injury, these kids obviously don't worry too much about the pain.  They enjoy the game and want to get better regardless of what may hurt.  Maybe the next time I think it would be best to skip a day because of a sore shoulder or back I will remember that amazing day right before Christmas 2012, push the pain to the side, and go out to practice.