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, August 31, 2015

The Children Get A Chance

Beginning something new can be a very daunting challenge for anybody.  Think about the last time you decided to pick up a new hobby or start a new job.  Imagine not being a runner and signing up for a half-marathon.  Do you think the training plan to complete the 13.1 mile run will be very intimidating?  Maybe you have been watching PGA Tour events on television and the Get Golf Ready commercials finally convinced you to find a PGA Professional and learn how to play golf.  The first time you walk onto the driving range you very likely will still be a bit tentative.  Now imagine you want to learn how to play golf but you are in a wheelchair or a hospital bed . . . and in a pediatric hospital.  You would likely think this should be virtually impossible, correct?  Wrong.  Every week this very thing is happening and those children who experience the tentativeness quickly fall in love with the game.

Golf is an incredible game for a myriad of reasons.  One of those is the opportunity for everybody to learn to play the game, play the game well, and be competitive on a level playing field.  These are all some of the things we discuss with the children at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital in St. Louis, MO.  Quite often we see kids who are hesitant to pick up a golf club and learn the game of a lifetime.  It is not uncommon to hear things like "I can't play golf in my wheelchair" or "these tubes and cords will get in the way while I swing."  The hesitation and uncertainty that they have is easy to see.  Many times the kids will just sit and watch for a portion of the clinic or even through the entire clinic.  However it is not long before the smiles and laughter from the other kids entices them to grab a golf club.

This is exactly what happened recently with a young lady who initially had no interest in learning to play golf.  She would come to the clinics to watch the other kids, but spent most of the time talking to the therapists or playing games on her phone.  Two or three weeks of the same scenario played out until one day she asked if she could give it a try for a few swings.  A few swings turned into about an hour of hitting golf balls!  What initially began as an unwillingness to even give golf a try from her wheelchair turned into a full-blown golf addict.  Several weeks after first picking up a golf club Carissa was ready to go home.  When she left Ranken Jordan she did so with a brand new U.S. Kids driver.

While reading this you might be thinking to yourself, "how in the world can a child hit a golf ball or even swing a club from a wheelchair or with pulse/ox monitors, feeding tubes, or breathing tubes?"  The physics behind getting a golf ball in the air do not change regardless of who is hitting it.  What changes is how the player gets the golf club to the proper position to produce a good golf shot.  With many of the kids at Ranken Jordan that is where a bit of creativity, and trial and error, comes into play.  Go to any driving range or golf course and you will see every play setting up differently to hit the golf ball.  The same is true with people with different abilities.  There is no one "correct" way for a child to position their wheelchair to hit a golf ball.  Every child has a slightly different position that feels comfortable to them.  With each child we find the best position for them, often times this varies from week to week, and sometimes can even be from the other side of the golf ball!

Hang around golfers for very long and you will likely hear them talk about "the secret" to the game.  So what is "the secret" to teaching golf to medically complex children in a pediatric hospital?  Very simple:  Give them the opportunity to learn and do it with a smile on your face.  Having the opportunity is the biggest hurdle to clear.  As an industry, we need to do a better job of welcoming all players to our golf facilities.  Everybody should have the opportunity to play this great game but unfortunately that is not always the case.  I feel very lucky to be able to offer this opportunity to all of the kids who spend any time at Ranken Jordan.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Hidden In Plain Sight

Over the past couple of months I have been asked by several people why I am not putting up new blog posts as frequently as I was in previous years.  The simple answer to that is it is golf season and I am a PGA Professional.  However there are also those days when I sit down at the computer with the intent of writing a new blog post and my feeble little mind goes completely blank.  Then there are the times like the topic I am going to attempt to write about in this post.  Quite often I will see or hear something at Ranken Jordan that I immediately think I want to write about.  However after a bit of thought I realize that I do not possess the ability to adequately discuss that particular topic.  That is the case with this one but I am going to give it a shot anyway.

A couple of months ago I was at Ranken Jordan one evening for an event celebrating the 10th anniversary of being in their current building at 11365 Dorsett Road.  During that event Ranken Jordan's President & CEO, Lauri Tanner, and the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Nick Holekamp, gave amazing speeches.  Every time I hear them speak I am blown away by their eloquence and passion for helping medically complex children.  That night one of them discussed the significance of the address and I have thought about it daily since hearing the explanation.  I mentioned that address just a few sentences earlier:  11365.  What is so significant about those 5 digits?  Think about it for a minute.  1 mission, 1 child at a time, 365 days a year = 11365.  Want to know what Ranken Jordan does and what makes them so unique?  You can see it on the side of the building every time you pull into the parking lot.

Hopefully our junior golf program lives up to that lofty standard.  I certainly hope that it does.  In the weeks and months that have followed hearing that explanation while in the PHRS gym at Ranken Jordan, I have frequently reflected back on the past 4 1/2 years since we started the junior golf program.  While my opinion is slightly biased, I believe we have met, and continue to meet, that standard.  One of the kids I think about was one of our "regulars" a couple of years ago.  Because of a recent surgery he was confined to his hospital bed while he recovered.  Many might think that would slow him down and prohibit him from playing golf.  All those people would be wrong.  One morning his grandmother was visiting him and she came with him to golf.  She even commented to me that "he can't play golf from his hospital bed."  I got a big grin on my face and said simply, "watch this."  After watching him hole a few putts she was not convinced so he moved on to hitting some wedges.  Apparently those wedges were not enough proof so he started hitting some drivers.  That seemed to do the trick and while she looked on with a combination of pride and disbelief, she smiled and said, "my grandson is playing golf from his hospital bed."

Many of the kids come to play golf in hospital beds, wheelchairs, or walkers, and have gait belts, pulse/ox machines, casts, braces, stitches, staples, etc.  We have children come to "Golf Day" with a myriad of complex medical conditions.  Every one of them gets a golf club in their hands, receives instruction on how to swing the club, and then they hit some of the most impressive golf shots I have ever seen.  Thousands of golf shots have been hit at Ranken Jordan and thousands more will be hit in the future.  The best part of all of those shots are the smiles on the faces of the children swinging the golf clubs. When I first approached Janine Roe about starting this program we both had the same goal:  put smiles on the faces of the kids.  Through all of the good shots, "practice swings," and holed putts, the children have smiled.  Many times while helping and watching the kids I will look at Janine or one of the other volunteers/golf professionals and just smile.  Words are not necessary to convey the significance of watching Carissa bang drivers off the windows or seeing Tony make another putt.  Mrs. Jordan was correct when she said "consider the children first in all that you do."  I am proud to say our golf program does just that.

Monday, August 3, 2015

A New Start

This past Monday was the annual Ranken Jordan golf tournament.  Every year I am amazed by the incredible outpouring of support from the community for one of my favorite places.  I tend to smile quite a bit during that day as I think about all the funds being raised that will do so much good in giving kids their lives back.  This year there was a great turnout and everybody was treated to a new tradition. For those who know me best, they know that my favorite week of the year culminates the second weekend of April.  Many might think it would be the week prior to coincide with what is typically Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season.  However there is nothing I look forward to more each year than the Masters golf tournament.

Beginning in 1963, the Masters has had a tradition of having honorary starters begin the tournament early on Thursday morning.  Jock Hutchinson and Fred McLeod were the original two who held the position of honorary starters.  Currently Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player, hit my three favorite golf shots of the year when they officially start the Masters.  At this year's Ranken Jordan tournament we had our own "Big 3" as Sam Ward, Michael Tekeser (Mikey T.), and Jessie Rodriguez performed the duties of our honorary starters.  Just as you can see Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, and other PGA Tour players gather around to watch the tee shots at Augusta National, the players in this year's Ranken Jordan tournament gathered at the first tee to watch a new tradition.  Everyone was rewarded by seeing our very own honorary starters rip a drive down the first fairway leading to the Ranken Jordan event being officially started!

A new tradition begins!
As our honorary starters were hitting their tee shots, I made it a point to look around to see the reactions from the golfers who had gathered to watch.  I was thrilled to see every person with a smile on their face.  Some of those smiling faces were like me and also had tears in their eyes.  The tears in my eyes came when I looked at each of the kids.  Seeing the look of pure joy on the faces of our "Big 3" is something that I will never forget.  Those who saw the three tee shots had the reason why they were playing in this tournament driven home in a spectacular way.  It underscored what "care beyond the bedside" is all about.  As everyone returned to their golf carts to head out to their respective starting hole on the golf course, I saw and heard very similar reactions from the golfers.  Many were simply silent, lost in thought at the amazing sight they had just witnessed.  Others spoke softly as they expressed how fortunate they felt to have been there to witness this great new tradition.

Memphis, TN native and former Ranken Jordan day treatment patient Sam Ward watching another drive go right down the middle of the fairway.
My feelings on that hot July day were very similar to those of the golfers I just described observing.  However I am always amazed by the incredible kids at Ranken Jordan and feel fortunate to get to spend the amount of time I do with them. Folks who spend time helping kids from any walk of life understand these feelings.  If you have never had the opportunity to give a little to experience a huge return I encourage you to create that opportunity.  Everyone has a charity or group in their area who would welcome the help.  And if you do not want to take the time to locate a charity to help, use the e-mail address at the top of the page to get in contact with me and I will find one for you.  There is nothing more rewarding than putting a smile on the face of a child.  Every day at 11365 Dorsett Road you see Mary Ranken Jordan's favorite words in action; at the annual golf tournament those words were also on display:  "Consider the children first in all that you do."

Mikey T. is everywhere!  Here he is "watching" over Ranken Jordan CEO Lauri Tanner's group as they line up a birdie putt.