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!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Mercy Mercy Me

For those who are regular visitors to this blog it is no surprise of my desire to create a national junior golf program for pediatric hospitals around the country.  This goal stems from the amount of good I see being done for the kids at Ranken Jordan on a weekly basis.  The benefits do no revolve around exposing them to a game they will be able to play once they leave the hospital.  These kids are seeing social, emotional, and physical benefits simply from being included in our golf program.  One of the kids in the program commented that "being involved in the golf program allowed me to have fun with people I know and love very much."  These are the types of benefits that often go unnoticed or unrecognized and should be available to kids in pediatric hospitals everywhere.

Recently I had the opportunity to visit Mercy Children's Hospital in St. Louis, MO, and help some of their kids play putt-putt golf on a cool summer day (those of you in St. Louis know how rare this is!).  The Gateway PGA Section partnered with the hospital during their Benefit 4 Kids week and three of our Section's Golf Professionals provided golf instruction for a couple of hours.  During the two hours we spent at the hospital we had over 20 kids come to the courtyard and take their turn on the putt-putt course that had been laid out for their enjoyment.  Many of the kids had played golf before; many had not.  It quickly became apparent to all those watching that it really didn't matter who had or had not played golf.  Each and everyone of the kids were having fun, playing like kids should play, laughing, and smiling.

During our time at Mercy we took a break from the "tough" duty outside to go visit a young man going through a several month cancer treatment.  One of the staff members told us he asked for us to come in to talk since he was unable to get out of bed.  When we got to his room we learned that he really had no knowledge of golf, had only been to the driving range once or twice, but one thing he has is the desire to learn more about golf.  He voluntarily filled us in on how he received his diagnosis, what his treatments would entail, and how long his hospital stay would be.  The entire time he was describing his situation he had a smile on his face and was incredibly positive.  Here we were supposed to be helping him and he was the one helping us!  While walking back to the courtyard to continue helping the other kids one of the nurses caught up to us and told us that we had "made his week" by stopping to talk.  I disagreed and told her it was the other way around.

These are the types of stories that could and should be told on a regular basis.  I want to hear these stories coming from New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Chicago, Atlanta, Orlando, Houston, Denver, Phoenix, San Francisco, etc.  Too many kids are facing and valiantly battling medical issues that no child should have to endure.  Our game has the ability to help these kids simply be kids.  Why shouldn't we do what we can to help them through their situation?  There are plenty of companies out there who could make this possible.  The positive public relations that company would receive cannot be bought.  Are you with a company that has a national reach and want to positively impact the lives of thousands of kids each year?  Contact me and I will gladly tell you how that can happen.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Next on the Tee . . .

One of the benefits of working so closely with the junior golf program at Ranken Jordan is having the opportunity to interact with a wide variety of very influential people within the game of golf.  There are not many of these types of programs around the country; when the topic is brought up people have a lot of questions and want to know more.  Many of you will remember reading about the visit from the PGA Officers during the Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid.  President Ted Bishop, Vice-President Derek Sprague, and Secretary Paul Levy took time from their schedule to offer some tips to the kids and tour the hospital.  Champions Tour player and 1987 U.S. Open winner Scott Simpson also generously gave of his time to work with the kids.  During one of his interviews he even commented, "how can you say no to something like this?"

Paul Levy, Ted Bishop, Lauri Tanner, Kevin Corn, & Derek Sprague relaxing with two junior golfers
It is difficult to believe but some of these influential people I have talked with have actually said "no" to this program.  Late last year I was discussing the program with a group of folks who commented that it seemed we were not trying to get these kids onto the golf course.  In a way that statement is correct.  Our goals of this program do not revolve around getting these kids from their hospital bed at Ranken Jordan to the first tee.  What we are trying to do ties right into one of the stated goals of Ranken Jordan:  get them out of bed and out of their hospital room so they can be active and enjoy being a kid.  Over the 2 1/2 years of this program we have seen the healing powers golf has and what it has allowed these kids to do while they are trying to get better.  Every week we see them smiling, laughing, and interacting with the other kids.  We see their hand-eye coordination improving, increases in strength, greater flexibility, improved balance, etc.  The list of physical improvements goes on and on.  We have also seen greater social interaction between the kids and changes in personalities.  All of these things far outweigh whether or not the kids ever make it to the golf course.

Happy, happy, happy

However the statement that we are not trying to get the kids onto the golf course is also incorrect.  We are exposing the game of golf to these kids and many have expressed the desire to continue playing once they leave the hospital.  Jack Nicklaus commented that "we need to introduce all kids to the game of golf in a way that is friendly and welcoming."  If the kids who participate in our program had not been at Ranken Jordan they would have never been introduced to the game.  The atmosphere is always friendly and it is certainly welcoming!  The comment from Mr. Nicklaus could have well been included in my last post about expanding to "non-traditional" groups of people to introduce to golf.  When one of the kids from our program is discharged from the hospital, they are given all of my contact information and encouraged to continue playing.  I have a standing offer to any of the kids to put them in contact with a local PGA Professional who will help them continue playing golf.  Many of the kids have left the hospital with golf clubs, golf balls, and other equipment, so they can continue what they have started.

Later this summer we will be taking the kids to Crystal Springs Golf Course where they will have the opportunity to get out onto the driving range and play a couple of holes.  The kids will not be playing all 18 holes, or even 9 holes, but they will be playing golf.  They will be hitting the shots and making the putts just like everybody else playing at Crystal Springs that day.  This is one of the things that has to happen for kids like this around the country to be able to play more golf:  they have to have access to golf courses.  Many courses are not overly accessible to people with disabilities and plenty are not overly welcoming.  Want to see programs like this putting more people on the golf course?  Make golf courses more accessible and more welcoming and you likely will see more golfers.  The Missouri Golf Association is building a golf course that will be 100% accessible.  Golf needs more of this and more people thinking like MGA Executive Director Scott Hovis.

I will undoubtedly write about the time spent on the driving range and golf course at Crystal Springs.  Hopefully I will have the opportunity to write more about programs like this being established around the country and local courses welcoming participants to come play . . . regardless of the number of holes that can be completed.  The people who spoke negatively about the program because it is not focused on getting the kids on the golf course do not get it.  Yes, we would love to see all of these kids on the golf course at some point in the future.  Golf is helping each and every one of these kids as they fight, and beat, the challenges they are faced with.  More than getting them on the golf course, we want to see smiling faces and positive results from therapy so these kids can get home.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Venturing "Outside the Box"

As time goes by and this blog continues to grow, there will be topics that are re-visited and covered multiple times from a variety of angles.  There are certain topics surrounding junior golf programs like we have at Ranken Jordan that I feel can and should be discussed regularly.  This post is one of those occasions.  Anybody who watches golf on television, reads any of the various golf magazines, or listens to radio shows like 101.1 ESPN's Back 9 show on Saturday mornings, has undoubtedly heard the emphasis placed by the PGA of America and United States Golf Association (USGA) on growing the game of golf.

Both associations have a variety of programs designed to bring new golfers to the game, encourage lapsed golfers to once again play the game, or stimulate existing golfers to play more frequently.  These programs could focus on affordable, innovative instruction plans like the PGA's Get Golf Ready.  The PGA has also rolled out Tee It Forward to encourage players to play the course from a yardage that is more suitable to their game (thereby making it more fun and faster).  Most recently at this year's U.S. Open at Merion the USGA unveiled their While We're Young campaign intended to make golfers more aware of their pace of play.  Each of these programs are wonderful ideas and very necessary to long-term sustainability of the great game of golf that we all love.

Gateway PGA Section's Ali Wells, PGA, helping get the set up just right
 All of the above programs target what would be considered "traditional" golfers or potential golfers.  This group includes people who currently played, have played in the past, are friends/relatives of players, or able-bodied people.  What none of these programs do, nor do any national initiatives that I am aware of, is target "non-traditional" potential golfers.  You may be asking who would be included in the non-traditional category?  The kids I work with each and every week at Ranken Jordan would be right at the top of that list.  During the life of our program we have had several kids who continued playing golf in some capacity after they left the hospital.  Additionally, each of those kids have had at least 1 family member (in most cases more than that) who have started playing.  That seems to be a pretty good record for a program that is available to kids who very likely would have never been exposed to the game if they hadn't been at Ranken Jordan.  Need more proof that pediatric hospitals are a good location for golf programs?  Last week I had the privilege and honor to play in Ranken Jordan's golf tournament with Sam Ward.  This is the same Sam Ward I wrote about in a recent post.  He has gone from patient at Ranken Jordan to walking 18 holes of golf.

L-R: Brett Moorehouse, Lisa Ward, Sam Ward, Chuck Ward, Kevin Corn, Joe Strauss
Our program is not unique but it certainly is not the norm, either.  This past week the summer golf program for Sports Are For Everyone (S.A.F.E.) started in the capital region of New York state.  Jim Murphy does a tremendous job with this program and has approximately 60 kids with special needs each year!  The kids learn the basics of playing golf, compete in various contests, and simply have the opportunity to be kids and socialize while playing a sport.  Each year they have players from the Symetra Tour visit and provide guest instruction.  Check out their website HERE to learn more about the great work they are doing with a wide variety of sports.  On their website you can see pictures from all their different activities.  After seeing all those smiling faces tell me how this isn't a great way to grow the game of golf!

Annbriar GC Head Golf Professional Kevin Schaeffer, PGA, watching another drive fly long and straight!
It is no great secret that the growth of golf has at best leveled off over the past several years.  This is primarily attributable to a less than stellar economy.  However, several of the reasons that growth has stalled can be addressed by the major organizations all the way down to local PGA Professionals and amateur associations.  The programs from the PGA and USGA mentioned in this post all tackle a critical component in the nationwide stagnation in the game.  But targeting a non-traditional group of potential players could be just the kick start that the game needs.  Not only are new golfers exposed to the game, but those around them are shown the magic that can be created by a few well-struck shots.  Golf can be a sport that allows for the inclusion of everyone to play on the same golf course and in the same competition (whatever that competition may be).  Because of this the game can provide wonderful healing powers in a variety of settings.  You only have to look at the work done with our wounded vets by PGA Professionals Kevin Schaeffer, Brian Maine, Judy Alvarez, or Jim Estes to see how important the game is to the recovery of our heroes coming back from defending our country.  Or you can look to a young patient who has progressed from a wheelchair to a walker to walking 18 holes of golf and learn that his ability to smack that Titleist a bit farther is a great motivating factor in his recovery.  Regardless of the examples you see that the message is still the same:  Disability may slow someone down, but it cannot stop them from achieving their own goals and playing a game they may have never dreamed they would play or thought they would never play it again.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Through Another's Eyes

Over the last 6 months or so you have read on a weekly (sometimes) basis about the impact golf is having on the kids at Ranken Jordan - A Pediatric Specialty Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri.  You have also read about the passion and desire I have to make this into a national program so we can share the healing powers of golf with kids in hospitals all around the country.  However in many of my posts I have neglected to mention the help and instruction provided from other volunteers not affiliated with the hospital.  These people are helping because they are good people and they see the impact one well struck shot has on these amazing kids.  Recently I received an e-mail from one of these volunteers.  In the e-mail he reflects back on the time he has spent at Ranken Jordan watching and helping the kids improve their golf game as well as their health.  I am not going to summarize what he said in his message.  If you continue scrolling down you will read his e-mail verbatim.  By the end of it you will see from another set of eyes the impact golf is having on the lives of these children.  I am proud to say he is a good friend of mine who has generously given his time and ideas to improve the golf program and help the kids.  Hopefully you will understand the passion he conveys through his words.  Read it, digest it, and then let me know when you are ready to help!

Golf means the world to me. My dad taught me the game, and many of my fondest memories are with him on one of a dozen or so North Georgia public courses. It usually involved a pre-dawn wake up call, a long drive there and a long drive back. When I look back on golf as a kid, the good shots seem great, and the bad shots seem funny. As I went into college and my professional life, my time with my dad was shared with friends, colleagues and professional acquaintances - and still my memories are nothing but smiles. Along the way, I got pretty good at the game. To this day, there is nothing like a large bucket and an empty range.

A year ago, I was hitting some balls at Glen Echo Country Club under the watchful eye of Kevin Corn and wondering why everyone on the range was so miserable. Fat shots, thin shots, hooks, slices...and that was just me. The joy of being able to play seemed to be supplanted with the misery of that thin chip over the green. The good shots of the day were drowned out by the grinding on where a 78 came from, when I believed I should have shot 74. That’s when Kevin offered me the chance to come out to Ranken Jordan and work with the kids.

Kevin has done a great job of speaking about the kids, and the work he and the extremely talented staff of Ranken Jordan have done with the golf program. To that end, before you head out for that next grinding session on the range, think about joining Kevin’s efforts. If you love golf I hope you get involved - for you as a golfer. It’s not a cliche, you will take far more away from the experience than you can ever hope to give the kids. 

I can promise you this, you will never see so many smiles on a driving range, and they aren’t just “happy to be there”. They are hitting draws and fades. They are making putts. It’s real golf, and they are just as passionate as the weekend warriors on the driving range. If you work with them, you will remember the fundamentals of the game, and you will remember what it is like to truly love it.

My time at Ranken Jordan was incredibly special. Some weeks ago, a few buddies and I were talking about the greatest shots we’ve ever seen and the usual suspects came up: Justin Leonard’s Ryder Cup putt on 17 at Brookline...Phil through the trees on 13 at Augusta...Tiger flopping in on 17 at the Memorial. But I can tell you the greatest 3 shots I’ve ever seen were by my buddy at Ranken Jordan, who couldn’t stand, calling a draw...then a fade...then hitting it to 2 feet on a 75 yard flag. His celebration was a confident smile, not an over the top fist pump.

I swear to everything that is holy, watch that one time and you will remember everything golf is all about. Get involved, wherever you are. It’s the best thing you’ll do for you, and if you’re lucky the kids might let you play with them.