- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 30, 2001

PGA Tour Inc. (PGA) deserves Scrooge-like infamy for its heartless treatment of disabled golfer Casey Martin. It has litigated the case of
PGA vs. Martin up to the United States Supreme Court in a morally repugnant quest to deny the admirably resilient Mr. Martin use of a golf cart during PGA competitions.
Even the PGA's legal quiver is dubious. But whatever the Supreme Court decides next spring, the PGA's battle against Mr. Martin marks an ugly hour in professional sports. Mr. Martin testifies to President John F. Kennedy's observation that life is unfair. He was congenitally afflicted with Kippel-Trenaunay-Weber Syndrome, a degenerative circulatory disorder manifested in a malformation of his right leg. Pain shoots up from his lower leg, and extended walking is unendurable. Any walking risks fracture or hemorrhaging.
That Mr. Martin is a disabled person under the Americans with Disabilities Act is undisputed. But he refused to whine or moan over his acute handicap. In the true spirit of American pluckiness and sporting manliness, Mr. Martin set his sights on professional golf and pursued his goal with unwearied tenacity. He scaled his way up the golf ladder to the final stage of competition for the prized PGA and Nike Tours. There his request to use a golf cart was inexplicably scorned by the PGA.
Mr. Martin had earned poster boy billing for showing that golfing glory was within the reach of even the severely disabled by dint of tears, toil and sweat. PGA would have commanded legions of good will by magnanimously bowing to Martin's plea irrespective of its legal right to make its own rules, which it could have preserved by announcing that its accommodation was a matter of grace, not ADA obligation. Has its leadership never read "A Christmas Carol?" Are its apostles ignorant of the biblical injunction: "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity?" Do its petrified forest of nabobs envision Casey Martin as their oblation to social Darwinism?
PGA's legal defense of its obtuse obliquity is thoroughly unconvincing. Golf carts are routinely permitted on the Senior (age 50 and over) Tour and in the initial qualifying competitions for the PGA and Nike Tours, yet all the contestants are still said to be playing golf, not a half-breed version.
The public and advertisers seem in complete agreement. Under the umbrella of a preliminary injunction issued by a federal district court, Mr. Martin used a golf cart in the 1998 Nike Tour, and won an event no one challenged as tainted. There seems no evidence that spectators or sponsors stayed away moved by the belief that the cart vitiated the authenticity of the golfing competition.
The district court found that PGA's walking rule for its elite tournaments injected a low-intensity fatigue factor into the sporting spectacles. But it was a microscopic fraction, not an integer of the competition. Thus, the district court found, the lead-footed walking pace permitted in competitions made fatigue "primarily a psychological phenomenon… . Stress and motivation are the key ingredients here."
Furthermore, Mr. Martin must walk approximately 25 percent of any course because a cart cannot closely approach the ball in many cases. He feels significant pain in covering this terrain and in entering and exiting his vehicle. Moreover, even with use of a cart, Mr. Martin suffers a competitive disadvantage with unimpaired walkers. The district court found Mr. Martin "easily endures greater fatigue even with a cart than his able-bodied competitors do by walking."
Indeed, has a single non-disabled golfer ever testified under oath or insinuated he might cut a few strokes off his game by swapping his walking for Mr. Martin's leg affliction plus a golf cart?
PGA insists that golf courses are not places of public accommodation subject to the ADA. The act, however, explicitly defines the term to include a "golf course." PGA additionally urges that portions of the course open to the public are included, but not playing areas reserved for elite golfing professionals. The language of the ADA, however, makes no such distinction; and, the non-discrimination statute has been applied in cases concerning disabled student athletes to the entire playing field, not confined to stands for spectators. The ADA, nevertheless, does not require PGA or any other sporting enterprise to bend its rules for a disabled individual if the result would "fundamentally alter" the game.
PGA asserts that Martin's use of a golf cart, ipso facto, revolutionizes the most coveted of non-cart competitions because the fatigue, psychological stress and pain he would suffer would not derive exclusively from walking. But that argument seems worse than a quadruple bogie.
Time-honored definitions of golf say nothing about walking. Open-ended use of carts are permitted by the PGA in its Senior Tour and early qualifying rounds for the PGA and Nike Tours. And it is undisputed that even with a cart, Mr. Martin golfs at a disadvantage to his rivals because of his disability. A cart exception for him, moreover, would not open the floodgates to challenge PGA rules by golfers who are either less afflicted or less easily accommodated. Shouldn't PGA's troglodytes be held accountable in some way for the Casey Martin debacle? A second edition could kill the association.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide