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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!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Forget the Wheelchair

People everywhere have a tendency to consistently revisit those things that bring joy to their life and a smile to their face.  Anyone who gets in the car with me knows this to be true when it comes to music and I would much rather listen to Jimmy Buffett or Styx instead of current music.  As for movies oftentimes people would prefer watching something they've seen in the past that they know to be a great movie (Caddyshack, Major League, Rocky, Cannonball Run, Shawshank Redemption, etc.) rather than take a chance on a current release not living up to the hype.  Anytime I turn on the TV I am either watching sports or looking for reruns of M*A*S*H or Mork & Mindy.

And so it goes at times with this blog.  I readily admit that I have a great tendency to tell similar stories or revisit similar topics on a regular basis.  But you know what, telling similar stories involving different kids at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital never gets old and always brings a smile to my face.  This past week during our regular golf clinic we had another one of those situations that I will talk about on a regular basis.  Whenever I am speaking to a group and telling these stories I typically wind up with sweaty eyes.  During our most recent clinic we had a great turnout of 8 kids.  One of our junior golfers was participating in her second clinic . . . and swinging a golf club for only the second time in her life.  Considering the week prior was her first time picking up a golf club I was blown away watching her hit driver after driver dead straight.  She kept trying to find just the right angle to lean in her wheelchair so she could get the best launch on her tee shots.  But as impressed as I was with her consistency with her tee shots, I had no idea that it was about to get even better.

As this young lady kept swinging away I would occasionally ask her if she needed a break, as we do with all of the kids.  Whether in a hospital or not, it does not do any golfer any good to keep hitting once fatigue has set in.  Everybody needs an occasional break so we always make sure to ask regularly if the kids need to get a drink and relax for a minute.  Her response the next time I asked grabbed my attention and is why I like telling these stories as often as possible.  She looked first at her mom and then at her therapist and said, "I want to stand up to hit golf balls."  Considering that is part of her actual therapy program her therapist was all for it.  Just a few minutes later we had changed drivers, going to a longer one to accommodate her standing versus in the wheelchair, and she went right back to hitting the driver dead straight off the windows!  All I could do was smile and keep teeing up golf balls for her as I was absolutely speechless.

Spending time with the kids every week at Ranken Jordan is a very important part of my life and something I look forward to each week.  When something like this happens it underscores how important golf can be in the lives of the kids there.  This past week we had several new golfers, kids who likely never dreamed of swinging a golf club, and all of them were hitting golf balls and smiling.  Then we see this young lady go from her wheelchair to standing while hitting golf balls and it adds an exclamation point to what has already been a great day.  One of my constant mantras that I repeat over and over is "golf is improving the lives of these kids" and this is another prime example of that happening.  Hearing this young lady ask for help to get out of her wheelchair and then stand to hit golf balls is another poignant reminder of why I  feel so very fortunate to have the opportunity to spend so much time at Ranken Jordan.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Venturing Back Outside the Box

A quick Google search on the overall health of the game and industry of golf would make you believe that golf is on the verge of the same fate the dinosaurs saw.  Plenty of articles document that people do not have the time to play a round of golf, that golf is too expensive, or it is just not cool enough for kids to want to learn how to play.  Other articles discuss the declining sales in equipment or mention how the poor play and injuries of Tiger Woods are killing TV ratings.  Still other articles talk about how stock for publicly traded golf companies is being shorted at a much higher rate than just a few months ago.  Rather than hold forecasters and buyers accountable, Edward Stack, CEO of a major sporting goods chain (I refuse to mention their name) elected to fire more than 500 PGA Professionals because declining golf sales had not been anticipated and his company saw significant losses in their golf division.  No matter where you look it seems that Forbes, Time, Money, CNBC, and others have all but written off the game of golf.

Even with all the supporting documentation out there about the decline in golf I tend to disagree with a vast majority of it.  What many of the articles fail to address is the fact that during the golf boom of the mid to late 1990s most markets were overbuilt creating crazy golf hole per capita ratios.  It seems that what is happening now is more of a market correction.  That is not to say that golf is not on a decline but I do not believe it is as desperate of a situation as many "experts" make it out to be.  I can only speak specifically for the one golf course I work at, but this year our total rounds, revenue, and merchandise sales all increased significantly over the previous 5 years.  All of this leads into one of the major focal points of next week's PGA Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana.

New PGA President Derek Sprague, PGA, offering swing advice at Ranken Jordan

At that annual meeting there will be a wide variety of topics discussed with many of them focusing on the growth of the game and industry.  One of the candidates for PGA Secretary, Russ Libby, PGA, has created multiple videos about his ideas for growing the game around the country.  This allows me to finally get to my point of this blog post and one that I have discussed in the past.  Sometimes growing the game of golf needs to be looked at with a fresh set of eyes and a very wide open mind.  In recent years we have had programs rolled out that include encouraging players to play 9 holes instead of 18, courses to cut larger cups on the greens, or offering affordable small group instruction designed to get new players interested in the game.  All of these are important in the overall growth of golf and keeping new players coming into the game.  However I will offer up a different idea for growing the game and I am certain everyone reading this knows what that is.

It is time for people involved with golf to really think outside the box and find new avenues to travel down to locate new golfers.  We cannot sit back and wait for people to come to the game; sometimes we have to take the game to them.  At Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, we do that on a weekly basis.  While kids are at this unique hospital making the transition from hospital to home, they are introduced to golf and shown that they can play the game regardless of the medical situation they are facing.  In any other setting, even at many other hospitals, these kids would be told they had no chance of ever playing golf.  We prove that thought process completely wrong.  Kids restricted to their hospital beds, in wheelchairs, using walkers, or with limited use of extremities are all hitting golf balls, sinking putts, smiling, and enjoying the game every week.  Since May 10, 2011, over 2,200 kids have been introduced to golf in this way with many of them continuing to play after leaving the hospital.  Not only have the kids kept playing, but family members, doctors, nurses, therapists, staff, board members, etc., have also learned to play or started playing more golf.  Each week we are simultaneously improving the lives of these junior golfers and growing the game.  I am slightly (ok, highly) biased but I feel that this is a "win-win" situation for everyone involved.

Golf programs like the one I started at Ranken Jordan do many things.  From a golf perspective it introduces the game to a group of people who otherwise would not have had the opportunity to learn how to play.  It also shows those who already play how the game can be used for a much greater benefit than the recreational, social, or competitive benefits they receive from their regular games.  In the setting at Ranken Jordan golf is improving the lives of these amazing kids.  This is where the "win-win" situation I previously mentioned comes into play and the simultaneous benefit of brightening lives and growing the game.  As PGA Professionals, any time we have the opportunity to grow the game and improve someone's life we have to do it.  With great conviction I will tell anyone who asks that there is nothing I do regularly on a weekly basis that means more to me than spending time with the kids at Ranken Jordan showing them how golf can be a part of their lives.  I encourage (and challenge) anyone, inside or outside of golf, who would like to get involved with improving lives and growing the game to contact me.  I guarantee you will never regret it.