A leisure or sport option for some, golf played by individuals with disabilities may be a hazardous undertaking. Because of this circumstance, these individuals may be denied the opportunity to play by a golf course superintendent. For example, approaching a teeing area that is elevated on a hill may be cumbersome for a person using crutches or virtually impossible for someone in a wheelchair. A golf cart path to a putting green may be too narrow, thus rendering it inaccessible to a wheelchair user. Wheelchairs and other assistive devices may severely impact putting greens (The Wall Street Journal, August 29, 1995).
Disputes over design and policy issues pertaining to golf course accessibility have led to legal confrontations. Golfers with disabilities are now filing formal complaints with the U.S. Department of Justice against golf courses to which they were allegedly denied the right to set a crutch or use a wheelchair on the course.
A fundamental premise of the game, however, is to play the course as one finds it -- to play the ball as it lies. The endless variety of individual golf courses adds much to the charm, interest, and uniqueness of the sport. Thus, the layout of a course provides a significant element of challenge to the sport. The game was never intended to be fair (Recreation Report, U.S. Access Board, July, 1994).
With the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990), the United States Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board) was charged by the Department of Justice in 1993 to create architectural guidelines to address issues regarding access to new and existing golf courses. Advocates of these guidelines do not intend to require golf courses to resemble airport runways -- flat as a pancake. "Access rules are intended to provide greater liberty to individuals with disabilities while maintaining the integrity of the course landscape," according to Greg Jones, President of the Association of Disabled American Golfers.
Accessibility guidelines developed by the Access Board's Golf Subcommittee currently recommend that at least one teeing area on each hole and at least one route to all putting greens be accessible. To maintain the game's integrity, and bunkers and water hazards do not have to be made accessible.
The Putting Green
A major concern of the new accessibility guidelines focuses on the amount of damage, if any, wheelchairs and assistive devices may cause sensitive turf grass areas, especially putting greens. The Golf Course Superintendents' Association of America discourages the use of wheelchairs and other untested equipment that could damage a green. However, golfers with disabilities will often scuttle across the green using hands, knees, or whatever it takes to make a putt.
The United States Golf Association is currently funding Rutgers University to study the ability of putting surfaces to withstand damage from wheelchairs, assistive devices, and foot traffic. The study will enable golf course superintendents to assess and potentially alter management practices that influence the bearing strength of putting …