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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.

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