ADA Applied to Professional Golf Tournaments

Defense Counsel Journal, July 2001 | Go to article overview

ADA Applied to Professional Golf Tournaments


Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, Casey Martin, a disabled professional golfer will be able to use a golf cart in PGA Tour Inc. tournaments. In PGA Tour Inc. v. Martin, 121 S.Ct. 1879 (2001), the Court held that the American with Disabilities Act protects access by a qualified but disabled golfer to professional golf tournaments and that the use of a golf cart is a "reasonable" accommodation that would not "fundamentally alter the nature" of the tournaments.

The PGA Tour prohibits the use of carts in its top-level tournaments in which the most skilled professionals golfers play, although it permits their use at the first levels of its qualifying school. Martin, who is afflicted with Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome, a degenerative circulatory disorder that obstructs the flow of blood from his right leg to his heart, challenged the no-cart rule under Title III of the ADA, which prohibits discrimination against an individual on the basis of disability in "any place of public accommodation." If the statutory shoe fits, the ADA requires "reasonable modifications" to accommodate the disabled person, unless the modifications "would fundamentally alter the nature of such goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations."

Martin was successful at the district court level in obtaining an injunction against the PGA Tour permitting him to use a cart, and the Ninth Circuit affirmed. 204 F.3d 994. The next day, however, the Seventh Circuit reached a contrary conclusion in Olinger v. United States Golf Assn, 205 F.3d 1001 (2000). The Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve the conflict. With two justices dissenting and Justice Stevens writing for the majority, the Court came down in favor of the golfers.

On the issue of applicability of the ADA, the Court turned down the PGA's argument that the public accommodations prong the act, Title III, applies only to clients or customers of an activity and not to the participants or entertainers, such as the golfers in a professional tournament or the actors in a stage production. Justice Stevens pointed out that the statute itself contains no such distinction, but he went to declare that it made no difference anyway, since the golfers themselves were "customers" in that anyone may pony up the $3,000 to enter the PGA's school to qualify for tournament status. …

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