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.