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!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Stories I Could Tell

If you have read this blog regularly you have noticed that there are a some common threads that are pervasive throughout all of the posts.  I regularly talk about my goal of seeing at least 1 junior golf program similar to the one we have at Ranken Jordan in each of the 41 PGA Sections.  You also have read about the importance of PGA Professionals getting involved with this type of program and the significant impact they can have in the lives of every one who participates.  Sprinkled throughout many of the posts you have read about the healing powers of golf and how this goofy game we all love can so significantly change the lives of the kids (and adults) we introduce to it.  That is the point I will expand upon in this post.

You may remember reading the story of the young man who became one of the regular participants in the golf program at Ranken Jordan after initially thinking golf was "stupid."  Many of us who play regularly have shared that sentiment at times, yet we all wind up returning to play again.  You will recall that after he picked up a putter and sank everything he looked at that we had a new, addicted golfer.  The therapists often told me that he would ask them to get the clubs out during the week so he could practice in between the clinics.  I wish all of my students would have that passion!  Why did he fall in love with golf so quickly?  As he would say shortly before he was discharged from Ranken Jordan, "golf helped me do things I didn't think I could do.  It was a time when I could do something to turn a bad day into a good day."  I would later find out just how accurate the latter part of his statement was.  At times the therapists would use golf as his reward for completing all of his daily therapy.  Sometime this summer you will read a lengthy post about him after we go play golf following his graduation from high school . . . a request he made not long ago and I couldn't say "yes" to fast enough!

Then there is the story of the young girl who has been a constant in our clinics.  Depending on where she is with her rehabilitation and therapy, we never know if she will arrive in a wheelchair or on a gurney laying on her stomach and propped up on her elbows.  What we do know is that however she gets there, she will arrive with a huge smile on her face and will be looking forward to playing golf.  Her physical limitations do not allow her to hit the ball very far or to play for very long.  But that doesn't put a damper on her determination.  She'll do what she can, take a break, and then come back for more!  Golf may or may not have had a direct effect on her physical therapy.  What is has had is a direct effect on her attitude and mental state allowing for her to spend more time with her therapists when she may otherwise have chosen not to.

Mikey T. aiming for the range picker!

I could go on and on with stories from the kids we have worked with at Ranken Jordan.  Rather than do that I would prefer to tell you some success stories from around the country.  Recently I learned the story of a young man named Zakki Blatt.  I had the pleasure and honor of learning his story during a phone call from his mother, Stephanie.  She learned of the junior golf program at Ranken Jordan through this blog and was compelled to reach out to me.  Zakki and Stephanie are both incredibly inspirational people.  My words certainly would not do their story justice so I ask that you click this link (Zakki's Story) to read the article in the April 2013 Golf Digest and get the story in Zakki's words.  I know the story and have read and re-read the article many times.  However each time I read it I am blown away by what golf has done for Zakki and what he is doing for golfers around the world (he also would like to see a junior golf program in a pediatric hospital in each of the 41 PGA Sections).

Zakki receiving the 2012 RBS Achiever of the Year award from Jack Nicklaus

Over the last several weeks I have been fortunate to have conversations with other professionals around the country who are doing great things with golf programs for disabled players.  Judy Alvarez, a PGA and LPGA Professional in southern Florida has been teaching disabled golfers for over 20 years.  I strongly encourage you to read her book, Broken Tees and Mended Hearts, which you can easily purchase on her website:  Jim Estes, a PGA Professional in Maryland, established the Salute Military Golf Association (SMGA) and provides instruction for our wounded warriors.  You may learn about the SMGA here:  While not golf professionals, Jim Fitzgerald and Jim Murphy have worked passionately to build the Sports Are For Everyone (SAFE) organization into a tremendously successful program.  They cover all sports but have seen great success with their golf program that "Murph" is dedicated to.  Please visit their website here:

What you will see from visiting the various sites I have links to within this post is a common theme that golf is improving the lives of those involved in these programs.  It is entirely likely that many of the participants may not continue to play golf for the long term.  But what is likely is that they will receive physical, emotional, and social benefits that come from being involved with a sport and interacting with their peers.  I again encourage you to find a way you can help one (or more) of these programs.  The stories I tell about the kids at Ranken Jordan, Zakki's story, and those contained on the various websites, illustrate how much of an impact this game has on the lives of those who pick up a golf club.  As always, I am available to guide you to a group, answer any questions, or provide assistance to anyone who would want to start a similar program on their own.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Christmas In April

"Hey Mom, I know what I want for my birthday and for Christmas!  Mom, I want one of these putting greens, golf clubs, and some golf balls!  Mom, can you believe that I'm playing golf?!"

A few short weeks ago this is what you would have heard if you were at Ranken Jordan during the time devoted to golf.  Corey, a young man who was there to recover from major surgery to both legs, had picked up a golf club for the first time and instantly fell in love with the game.  You might think those words were said while his mother was standing next to him.  That wasn't the case.  Corey was yelling across Warner's Corner as soon as he saw his mom!  His declaration came following a couple of phone calls to find out how soon his mother would be there because he had something to tell her.  Needless to say he was excited about the new game he was learning.

Corey proudly showing off his new putter!
 Moments like these are when it becomes obvious to anyone associated with this program that we are having an impact on the lives of these amazing kids.  Prior to arriving at Ranken Jordan Corey had never played golf.  Well, he had never played golf anywhere except on a video game system.  Shortly after he started putting for the first time he began sinking putts with regularity.  The permanent smile that spread across his face was indeed an incredible sight.  The immediate attraction felt by able-bodied golfers when they hit a good shot or sink a putt is exactly what Corey was feeling.  Because of the surgeries, Corey was putting with casts from hip to toes on both legs while sitting in a wheelchair.  That certainly didn't diminish his enthusiasm or slow him down in the least bit!

For those who have never had the honor and privilege to be around golfers with any type of disability, you may not understand that what draws able-bodied golfers to the game is the same thing that lures in those with physical and/or mental challenges.  More than 1 junior golfer at Ranken Jordan has had the exact same reaction to the game as what I have described with Corey.  It might be a putt that rolls directly into the middle of the cup.  Other days it could be a chip shot that lands smack in the middle of the net being used as a target.  Still another time it could be that high, arching 7 iron that lands softly right next to the flag.  Regardless of the type of shot, it only takes on to have them hooked.

This passion and love for the game are one of the things we are trying to expose to the kids at Ranken Jordan.  Yes, as I have stated in most of the blog posts, our primary goals will always be to make the kids smile, allow them to have fun, and let them be kids.  Those goals have not changed nor will they.  The inherent focus of this program is to make their time in the hospital more enjoyable.  However, we still would like to see them continue to play golf once they are discharged and go home.  To help the kids continue to enjoy the game we will put them in touch with a local PGA Professional if that is what is needed.  Others will stay in touch with me and I'll encourage and help them as best as I can.  And sometimes when a kid like Corey is discharged he will be given a putting mat, putter, and Titleist golf balls.  It isn't his birthday and it certainly is not Christmas, but who needs a special occasion to bring yet another of those ear-to-ear smiles to his face.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Unique Expectations

When I first walked into Ranken Jordan - A Pediatric Specialty Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, in March of 2011, I went in with the goal of starting a golf program to help the kids who are there as patients.  Not long after arriving and looking around I knew I was going to do something to help the kids . . . and I hoped it would still involve a golf program.  Ranken Jordan is by itself a very impressive facility.  When you pull up to Ranken Jordan it is not readily apparent that you are in the parking lot for a hospital.  Going inside the building gives you the same impression.  But while the facility itself is impressive, what makes it so special are the people inside -- the patients and Ranken Jordan staff.

Any number of architects can design a building that you will have a difficult time discerning what it's function is.  What makes Ranken Jordan different are the special people who work there and the very special kids who are there for any number of complex medical reasons.  Talk to anybody associated with Ranken Jordan and you will see a great passion for helping the kids.  The position that person holds, President of the Board of Directors, CEO, recreation therapist, volunteer, etc., is irrelevant.  They are there solely to help the kids.  That passion shines through in all that they do on a daily basis.  Anyone who questions where that passion evolves from needs only to spend a few minutes with any one of the up to 34 kids who are there as inpatients (at any given time there will be a considerable number of out-patients there due to a very well developed community program).  These kids are the reason why Ranken Jordan has to be different from other hospitals.

Whether through reading this blog, visiting the Ranken Jordan website (, or both, you know that the kids are there because of complex medical issues.  This may lead you to ask a question I often hear, "What expectations did you have for the kids as it relates to playing golf?"  My expectations were simple yet complex at the same time.  Every week I go in there I want to show the kids that they can play golf, hit good shots, and have fun with it.  Yes, these goals are simple, but given the medical issues each kid faces the goals can also be a bit complex.  The complexity comes from finding ways to work within each kid's physical ability and still be able to get the ball airborne.  I am quite proud to say that every kid who has participated in our golf clinics has accomplished that goal!

During the education process that is required of all PGA Professionals, we are taught, trained, and tested on teaching techniques and our diagnostic abilities.  We learn the 9 ball flight laws, how each occurs, possible ways to fix them, proper club fitting, etc.  What is nowhere in the curriculum is how to teach a golfer with physical and/or mental disabilities.  While this is the case, knowing and understanding the 9 ball flight laws actually goes a long way towards seeing every kid hit the ball in the air.  PGA Professionals who understand the ball flight laws can find a way to make modifications for each kid that will result in a golf shot getting up in the air.  One smile on the face of a kid who just hit the ball in the air for the first time is all it takes.  I promise you there is no other incentive you will need to find a way to help.

Having the correct expectations is critical to the success of any junior golf program.  Most times these expectations involve the golfer progressing from the practice area to the course or could be related to improvements in their handicap index.  It is not often that the success of the junior golf program is measured by the number of smiles, high fives, shots hit in the air, chip shots in the net, or putts made.  As I mentioned earlier in this post Ranken Jordan is a special place so it seems only appropriate that special criteria are used to measure the success of their junior golfers.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Get Into the Swing of It

While watching the Valero Texas Open PGA Tour event this past weekend I couldn't help but think of the multitude of ways the game of golf helps people.  During many of his interviews, Joe Gorder, President & COO of Valero, talked about the charitable contributions made by his company's event.  This year they were able to donate $10 million to charities.  Following the conclusion of the event, they will have over 2,500 golfers spread over several San Antonio area courses playing in an event to raise even more money for charity.  Last year alone the PGA Tour gave over $130 million to charities and have donated almost $2 billion in the Tour's history.  Add to that total the estimated $35 million raised in 2012 by players for their own charitable initiatives or foundations and you reach a mind-boggling amount of money.

Exactly what does all this money raised for charity actually mean?  For many of the recipients of this money it represents opportunity and hope.  It gives them the chance to improve their lives through education, physical fitness, or professional job training, and look forward to better days ahead.  Other times this opportunity and hope is related to health and the medical field.  A significant portion of the charitable dollars raised will go towards research into the myriad of diseases and afflictions that scientists and doctors are hopefully close to finding cures for.  Because of the money raised plenty of people will receive medical treatment that they otherwise would not have (oftentimes this is life-saving treatment).  The donations may help improve medical facilities or testing equipment.  Regardless of the organization receiving the money, it still represents the possibility of a brighter future for all those involved.

The charitable donations cited above do not include events like PGA Golf Day, Patriot Golf Day, or the thousands of local charity tournaments conducted each year around the country.  Many of the PGA Sections have begun to participate in the PGA Golf Day 100 hole marathon.  Those participating sections ask their golf professionals to play 100 holes of golf in one day, using 1 golf ball, and 1 hole at a time.  Last year in the Gateway Section we raised almost $88,000 that was donated to 5 different charities around our section.  This year we are hoping to see that number grow to over $100,000!  To learn more about this year's event please visit the Golf Day website HERE.

One other area of benefit from the game of golf is a person's direct involvement with golf.  This can come in the form of playing, going to the driving range, or watching a golf tournament either in person or on tv.  At Ranken Jordan we have attempted to capture all of those experiences in our program.  The over 1,100 kids our program has impacted in 2 years have enjoyed the opportunity to learn to play the game of golf.  This program shows them that they can be involved in sports regardless of their physical limitations (you can read quotes from the kids in the last blog post).  A couple of days each summer we have taken the kids to a local golf course to hit balls on the driving range.  Needless to say this is a very popular aspect of the program!  Last winter the kids had a chance to go play on a full-swing simulator and absolutely loved it.  Very soon they will have that same opportunity at Ranken Jordan as we will be adding a simulator at the hospital!  This summer the Senior PGA Championship presented by Kitchen Aid will be at Bellerive CC.  Don't be surprised if some of the kids are there watching in person.

In past posts I have talked about the charitable aspects of the game of golf.  Golf is a very giving game played by generous people.  It also is a game that anyone can play.  These two things create a unique atmosphere for the game benefiting people in ways no other sport can.  As the quotes in the last post illustrated, golf helps the kids at Ranken Jordan from a physical, social, and emotional standpoint, as well as showing them they can do something they may have never thought possible.  The funds raised through PGA Golf Day benefit the hospital from the financial contribution as well as the increased exposure for the facility throughout our region.  It is hard to believe that our program has had such a profound impact on the kids at Ranken Jordan and, as mentioned earlier, has touched over 1,100 kids.  Those of you who have learned more about Ranken Jordan will know that they have only 34 beds in their facility and yet we have managed to help that many children.  Imagine if programs like this, whether for children, wounded vets, seniors, etc., were more prevalent around the country.

I encourage you to get involved to whatever level you can.  Whether you are giving your time, money, or a combination of the two, do something to help.  I, and the kids and staff at Ranken Jordan, along with the Gateway PGA Section professionals would welcome your involvement with PGA Golf Day and/or Ranken Jordan directly (my e-mail address is at the top of the page should you want to contact me or have any questions).  But if you don't live in the metro St. Louis area and are more compelled to contribute to a local charity, please do that!  I speak from experience when I say that you don't realize the impact you can have until you see that child's face light up when they hit a good golf shot or see a parent with tears of joy running down their face as they watch their son or daughter do something they never dreamed possible.