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Disabled Golfer Wins Right to Use Cart

U.S. Supreme Court rules for Casey Martin

TUESDAY, May 29, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Pro golfer Casey Martin won the biggest victory of his career today when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a federal disability law allowed him to use a cart between shots during tournaments.

By a 7-2 vote, the Court said that the PGA of America violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it told Martin he could not get an exemption from walking-only rules during PGA Tour events. Martin, who turns 29 this week, suffers from Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber Syndrome, a rare circulatory disease, in his right leg that makes it impossible, he claims, for him to walk an 18-hole golf course.

Although the National Collegiate Athletic Association permits players to ride in carts between holes, the PGA, where Martin now competes, does not. The PGA had argued that allowing Martin to ride would give him an unfair advantage over the other golfers, who walk about four miles or more in a single round and must overcome fatigue to win.

Martin, a Eugene, Ore., native who attended Stanford University with Tiger Woods, sued the PGA Tour in 1997, arguing that its ban on carts was a violation of his rights under the ADA. Martin won a lower court decision allowing him to compete on the Nike Tour, a series of tournaments for young golfers, and in 2000 won a spot with his play on the PGA Tour. The golf group appealed the earlier decision to the Supreme Court, which heard arguments in the case in January.

"Under the ADA's basic requirement that the need of a disabled person be evaluated on an individual basis, we have no doubt that allowing Martin to use a golf cart would not fundamentally alter the nature" of PGA tournaments, writes Justice John Paul Stevens for the majority.

Roy Reardon, Martin's attorney in the Supreme Court case, says the golfer was "delighted" by the decision, which was announced as he was on his way to a tournament in Pennsylvania. "This is his life. Had he lost, it would have been the end of golf for Casey," Reardon says.

While the court's opinion is likely to provoke doomsday predictions from golf and sport purists, Reardon says it's unlikely to have any impact on the game beyond allowing Martin to play. "This case does no more than give a great golfer the opportunity to use a cart. It doesn't fundamentally alter the game of golf, which is about shot-making. [Martin] can do that very well," he adds.

Tim Finchem, the PGA Tour commissioner, says the golf group was "trying to protect the integrity of our rules," not shut Martin out of playing the game. "We are quite pleased that in the context of ruling for Casey the Supreme Court seems to have given us latitude" to keep the rules for walking during tournaments, says Finchem. "It's reasonable to assume that this opinion going forward will relate to Casey Martin and perhaps to Casey Martin only."

In a dissenting opinion, Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas criticized the majority's "'Alice in Wonderland' determination that there are such things as judicially determinable 'essential' and 'nonessential' rules of a made-up game." What's more, the jurists added, the decision is an "Animal Farm determination that fairness and the ADA mean that everyone gets to play by individualized rules, which will assure that no one's lack of ability (or at least no one's lack of ability so pronounced that it amounts to a disability) will be a handicap."

The PGA, in a brief statement released today, says that it wishes Martin "every success," and that it will be evaluating its regulations in light of the Court's ruling.

What To Do

Read the decision by visiting the U.S. Supreme Court site. (You'll need Acrobat Reader to look at it.)

To learn more about Casey Martin, check out GolfWeb.

For more on professional golf, visit the PGA.

And for more on the Americans with Disabilities Act, try the U.S. Department of Justice, which supported Martin's case.

SOURCES: Interview with Roy Reardon, attorney for Casey Martin, New York; Webcast PGA news conference; PGA Tour; U.S. Supreme Court ruling, PGA Tour Inc. v. Martin
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