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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, September 29, 2013

Benefits In Abundance

Very often when I sit down to write a new blog post I find myself drawing a blank as I try to decide on a topic.  Of course those who know me best would say my mind being blank is not an uncommon occurrence!  What I have come to learn about this particular situation is that I am often overwhelmed by the amount of topics available.  Every week we see kids who provide us with so many great stories and memories that can be told.  After over 2 1/2 years of weekly junior golf clinics you can imagine the number of stories I have to attempt to keep straight!  We have no intention of stopping this program so the volume of stories will just continue to grow and grow.

When I look back from where we are at now to the beginning of the program I often times find myself wondering about the exact role golf has played in the recovery of some of the kids.  This past week at Ranken Jordan I was talking about this topic with one of the therapists when we saw one of our regulars on her way to the "tee" with an ever-present smile on her face.  Looking at her it was easy to figure out the role golf has played in her recovery.  This young lady has consistently been at our weekly golf clinics the entire time she has been at Ranken Jordan.  When she first started coming to golf we had to go hand-over-hand with her and she struggled to sit up in her wheelchair for more than a few minutes before needing a break.  Little by little her strength improved.  As this happened she was able to play golf for most of the hour that we are there every Tuesday.  Earlier this summer her strength had improved so much that she began taking swings on her own!  Now she sits up in her wheelchair for the entire hour, hits golf balls the entire time, and has a permanent smile etched on her face.  Golf has been a way for her to build her strength, stamina, and balance in a fun way and show her that she has something extra to look forward to when she leaves the hospital!

Stories about recoveries like this are not uncommon.  Many times in this blog I have described various stories about kids who have been a part of our junior golf program.  Every one of them has talked about how much fun they have playing golf and how they never dreamed it could be possible for them to play.  Putting a golf club in their hands has served as a catalyst in their recovery.  They are part of a sport that has allowed them to set very realistic, attainable goals . . . and then they work to reach those goals.  In many cases the time spent playing golf has served as part of their actual therapy.  The social and emotional improvements are also very noticeable.  Seeing the kids interact with each other on a weekly basis reminds everybody of the important role golf plays in the lives of these kids.

The other aspect I wonder about from time to time is what this junior golf program has meant to the Gateway PGA Section.  Being involved with a great facility like Ranken Jordan has certainly led to me being involved in a variety of golf tournaments, dinners, and other functions that I otherwise would not have been a part of.  But the Gateway PGA Section has also seen some benefits.  Recently I received an e-mail from our Executive Director, Josh Riley, PGA, explaining how the Section has benefited:

Ranken Jordan – A Pediatric Specialty Hospital is a special place to children across the country and to the Gateway PGA.  Through our charitable arm, the Gateway PGA Foundation, we have been able to donate equipment to the hospital.  The donation of equipment would be fruitless if not for the time that has been put in by local PGA Professionals.  The idea and the passion were brought forth by Kevin Corn, PGA.  The concept is simple from the view point that it is providing a reprieve for kids who battle through countless hours of rehabilitation and medical treatment.  However, the concept is much deeper when you look at the relationships that have been formed and the joy that exudes from a child when they realize they can play golf in their own special way.  The Ranken Jordan program has allowed the Gateway PGA to give back through golf while hopefully improving the outlook on a few kids’ lives.

To me it is a sign of a very successful junior golf program when everyone involved sees benefits.  I will be the first one to jump up and say I have seen countless personal and professional benefits from my involvement.  As you read in Josh Riley's comments the Gateway PGA has seen many benefits.  Ranken Jordan has seen happier kids, expanded therapy options, additional media attention, and donations from the Gateway PGA Golf Day.  The game of golf is growing and adding new players from the participants in our program (as well as family members, friends, Ranken Jordan staff members, etc).  But most importantly, the kids involved have received benefits.  Regardless of how everyone else has benefited or improved, none of it would matter if the kids were not having fun and getting better.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Possibility Awaits

Independence, dreams, possibilities.  These three words present limitless potential for millions of kids around the world.  Many days these kids get up and head off to school to learn what will be the foundation of their future careers.  Other days the kids get up and the  biggest decision they have to make is whether they will play baseball or basketball all day long.  They have the ability to make those decisions because their bodies allow them to.  They are not challenged by a left arm that refuses to work quite right or a right leg that may not be there anymore.  Nor do they have to worry about transferring themselves from their bed to their wheelchair.  Making sure someone is close by to change their oxygen tank (1 of 25 they will go through on a daily basis) is not a necessity.  Many of the kids who are not faced with these issues think they have it "rough" because they didn't get the newest video game as soon as it was released or their iphone is not the most recent model.

One day for any of these kids (or adults for that matter) in a pediatric hospital would most certainly change their perspective.  Spend 2 minutes in a pediatric oncology unit or talk to the kids in the cardiac ward and tell me that the video games or cell phones really matter.  Talk to the kid in the rehabilitation hospital who is learning to walk with his new prosthetic leg and explain to me how you can get upset because you hit your tee shot into the water.  You can't.  Yet while you talk to the kids in any of these areas you will see some common threads.  They are likely smiling more than you are.  Almost all of them (if not all) have a better perspective and outlook on life than you do.  All of them are working for some independence, they are creating and chasing their dreams, and they all want to know what possibilities await them when they are released to go home.

During their time in any type of pediatric medical facility kids will be presented with a wide variety of activities to minimize boredom and keep them smiling.  However many of these activities are designed to keep them in their bed, hospital room, or wheelchair.  Most facilities do not embrace "care beyond the bedside" like I have been witness to.  This is where golf comes in to play.  Golf gets the kids up, out of bed, and moving.  It puts a smile on their face, makes them laugh, and has them interacting with their peers.  Long drive challenges are extended to therapists or golf professionals (and it is amazing how often the kids win!).  And guess what else it gives them?  Golf gives them independence, a new set of dreams, and it gives them possibilities.

Of course golf can and should be incorporated into the therapy of any of these kids.  There are many physical benefits from playing the game.  However as big as the physical benefits are the emotional and sociological improvements the kids see.  Seeing the smile on the face of a junior golfer as he is on the golf course and driving a golf cart for the first time is indescribable.  Watch a girl give a little fist pump after she makes her 5th straight putt and try not to smile.  Or  you can observe the look on the face of the man working in the golf store who clearly does not think Zakki Blatt can hit the driver he has selected.  That man was quickly proved wrong as shot after shot was ripped into the simulator screen.  Golf has given all of these kids a level of independence and allowed them to dream new dreams.  Soon golf will also give them possibilities.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A New Role

Golf Instructor.  Merchandiser.  Tournament Administrator.  Business Analyst.  Golf Car Fleet Manager.  Junior Golf Leader.  Player.  Food & Beverage Manager.  Golf Club Cleaner.  Membership Sales.  Public Relations.  Range Ball Picker.  Caddy Master.  Rules Official.

These are only a few of the many different roles PGA Professionals take on each and every day.  I kept the list short as it could go on for pages.  Many people do not realize the varied job duties that are required from every professional on staff to efficiently operate a golf course every day.  If you ask most people what PGA Professionals do every day they will reply "play golf and give lessons."  Unfortunately nothing could be further from the truth for most of us!  During our 12 or 14 hour days we have to assume roles that at times aren't exactly glamorous in order to provide the best possible experience for each of the golfers on the course every day.

Upon entering the golf business most professionals know they are going to work long hours, play very little golf, and give fewer lessons than what they would like.  That is the direction our industry has turned in recent years with no sign of going back anytime soon.  My personal opinion is that many decision makers in the golf business have lost sight of what drives the industry:  the game.  They have forgotten that if people do not enjoy playing and have fun while on the course that they will stop playing, or at the very least play less.  The reason we all entered this profession is because of an inherent love for the game and too often we spend more time in board rooms than on the course interacting with our players.

Times like this are when it is essential that PGA Professionals step up and show that we are the experts in the game.  Yes we can also handle the business but most importantly we are experts in the game of golf.  How do we do this?  One way is to find new areas to introduce potential players to the game and show people just how fun golf can be.  Isn't that why you play a game, to have fun?  You know what happens in every pediatric hospital I walk into and teach the kids how to play golf?  Every one of the kids has fun.  They laugh.  They smile.  They get to know other people who they may have never interacted with if it wasn't for golf.  And while they're at it they get in a little bit of therapy without realizing it is happening.

The kids aren't the only ones having fun.  The PGA Professionals are having fun.  The therapists, doctors, and nurses are having fun, also.  All of us are getting back to the root reason for why we play.  Along the way we are also developing relationship with some of the kids that prove to be very special.  We are providing mentoring without knowing it.  We are giving them hope and something to look forward to when they leave the hospital.  Maybe focusing on the fun is too simplistic of an approach for many in the golf industry to understand.  There are no fancy presentations with colorful graphs and year-to-year comparisons.  All we have is a bunch of kids having fun.  I have had mothers of kids in our program tell me that what we are doing is "magic" and that we have "made dreams come true."  Trying to have fun could be the way to show the child in all of us the magic this game possesses and allow us to see our dreams come true.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Any Questions?

Questions are a natural part of anything involving children.  Juniors are naturally inquisitive and tend to ask about anything and everything imaginable.  Many times the question will simply be "why?" and you feel as if you will never give an acceptable answer!  Other times the question will be more in depth and you will try to figure out how to give an acceptable answer.  The golf clinics at Ranken Jordan are no different as the junior golfers are always throwing questions at us.  Often the questions are the same as what would be heard in any other junior golf program at the thousands of golf facilities around the country.

"How do I hit it farther?"
"Why didn't the ball fly straight?"
"Do you know Tiger Woods?"
"What do you mean I have to hit something other than a driver?"

These questions are asked in every junior golf program regardless of location, amount of experience the junior golfers have, or type of facility the program is at.  Then there are some of the questions I have heard during our golf clinics.  These are the questions that let you know that the program is making a difference in the lives of so many amazing children.

"How can I keep playing golf when I leave the hospital?"
"Will you help me find the right golf clubs and play golf with me when I go home?"
"Can my dad come watch because he said he never thought he would see me hit a golf ball?"
"How can I play golf from a wheelchair?"
"I want to keep practicing; can't therapy wait?"

Some of these questions are easier to answer than others.  One of my favorites is when the kids want to keep practicing and the therapists have to try and explain why they have to go to therapy!  Other questions that I have heard can make your eyes get a little sweaty.  Yet others simply bring a big smile to your face as you realize the impact golf is having on the lives of these kids.  It is always wonderful to see family members come to the clinics to watch the kids play golf.  The looks of amazement, the tears of joy, and the positive comments are truly heartwarming.  Showing the relatives that playing golf is a reality is a major step to keeping the kids playing once they leave the hospital.

The best part of all the questions that are asked is that the inquisitiveness about the game comes from a real interest and enjoyment in what they are doing.  Each of these junior golfers genuinely enjoys having the opportunity to learn to play golf and sees that their medical condition won't keep them from this great game.  As I have mentioned numerous times in several different blog posts a pediatric hospital is not the first place many would think a junior golf program can be successful.  The 1,400+ kids we have seen in the past 2 1/2 years prove otherwise.  Golf is a great healing tool and in our program it is utilized as such.

The game does not just help heal the physical issues the children are facing.  It helps heal their mind and soul as well as their body.  Of course the most obvious improvements are the physical ones, many of which are nothing short of miraculous.  But during my time working with medically complex children I have also seen personality changes in many of the kids.  After talking with them, therapists, nurses, doctors, and family members, it is clear that golf is playing a significant role in many of these changes.  These improvements and changes are in many cases just as important as the physical ones.  I can say with great certainty that there is no better feeling than knowing this junior golf program has played a small role in the healing of so many kids.  Now it is time to get busy and add programs around the country . . . and in the process we will help thousands upon thousands of kids each year.