Accessibility for Golfers with Disabilities: It's Tee Time!

Article excerpt

According to the National Golf Foundation, the number of golfers in the United States more than doubled between 1970 and 1991, to 24.7 million players. Most U.S. golfers (80 percent) play at least 50 percent of their rounds on public courses (Schroeder, 1991). The popularity of golf is clearly on the rise, with increasing interest by women and by youth and teens. This is due, in part, to increased media attention given to women golfers, and to the recent notoriety gained by younger players, such as Tiger Woods, who has taken the golf world by storm.

One of the Fastest Growing Sports Among the Physically Challenged

The development of golf as a sport is reaching new heights, but one of golf's greatest stories is what is happening with the disabled. Golf is one of the fastest growing sports among the physically challenged because it places as much emphasis on the mental as the physical aspects of the game. In addition, golf is one of the few sports where a player with a disability competes on the same playing field as unimpaired golfers. Other sports -such as basketball, football and bowling-have structured leagues for competition, but golf is unique in that everyone competes against the same foe...the golf course. That "level" playing field, say many golfers with disabilities, is what attracts them to the sport.

In the 1950s, the idea of someone playing golf in a wheelchair was almost unheard of. But now the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensures all people access to public facilities, which includes municipal golf courses. That has flung the door wide open for the estimated 49 million Americans in the United States with some form of physical disability (U.S. Census Bureau, 1990). Of this group, only two to three million participate in some form of organized physical or social activity.

By becoming physically active, people with disabilities can increase mobility, self-confidence, independence and productivity. Studies have shown that physically challenged people participating in a sports and recreation programs tend to lead healthier lives with fewer doctors visits and hospitalizations.

National Groups and Associations

Helping thousands of the disabled enjoy the unique pleasure of hitting a golf ball are several national groups (see Figure 1), the oldest of which is the National Amputee Golf Association (NAGA). Almost 50 years ago a small group of World War II amputees recognized the importance that participation in the sport of golf played in their own rehabilitation. Believing that participation in physical activity could also benefit others, they formed an organization to promote and offer physical and mental therapy to amputees through involvement with golf. NAGA now boasts over 3,500 members and sponsors over 30 regional and national golf tournaments each year.

Other national organizations supportive of golfers with disabilities include: the Association of Disabled American Golfers, founded in 1992; the National Handicapped Sports and Recreation Association; Physically Limited Golfers Association; the United States Blind Golfers Association; Special Olympics International; and the Access Board.

Models of Accessibility

Clemson's Walker Course, at Clemson University, is rapidly gaining a reputation as a model of accessibility for a championship-level, 18-hole golf course. Edward J. Hamilton, director of research for the National Center on Accessibility at Indiana University says, "It is absolutely incredible . . . I expect the Clemson course will become widely regarded as one of the most successful, accessible courses in the world." Clemson's National Project for Accessible Golf has a long-term commitment to seek new technologies and programs which will benefit golfers with disabilities.

In 1996, the fifth National Forum on Accessible Golf was attended by faculty members from departments of parks, recreation and tourism management, agricultural and biological engineering, horticulture, and fisheries and wildlife. …