Martin Case Puts "Cart" Before the Courts

May 30, 2001 ( - The Supreme Court has ruled that disabled golfer Casey Martin may use a cart to ride in tournaments, finding that the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requires a legal leveling of the playing field for the handicapped, even in pro sports.

The 7-2 decision means the Professional Golfers’ Association of America must make allowances for Martin, after resisting Martin’s efforts for years. Martin, 28, suffers from Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber Syndrome, a rare circulation disorder that has left him with a withered right leg.

The ADA bans discrimination against the disabled in public accommodations, including golf courses and entertainment sites. The law requires “reasonable modifications” for disabled people unless such changes would fundamentally alter the place or event.

Tour Bust?

While the PGA Tour said that all pro golfers must walk because uniform rules are essential for the integrity of the sport, Justice John Paul Stevens said that accommodating Martin with a golf cart will not fundamentally change the game of golf.

Stevens, himself an avid golfer, writing for the Supreme Court majority noted, “What it (the accommodation) can be said to do, on the other hand, is to allow Martin the chance to qualify for and compete in the athletic events (the PGA Tour) offers to those members of the public who have the skill and desire to enter. That is exactly what the ADA requires.”

However, the Supreme Court’s ruling will not produce any immediate changes for the PGA tour because Martin is not currently playing well enough to qualify for those events. He currently plays on the Buy.Com Tour where PGA rules also apply.

Peripheral “Vision”

Stevens noted that the walking requirement is “at best peripheral” to PGA Tour events. However, Stevens also said that if the purpose of walking is to tax golfers’ stamina, Martin’s disability does that for him.

That law applies to professional sports events when they are held at places of public accommodation, according to the court majority.

Martin sued in 1997, after the PGA said he could not use a cart. He won in lower federal courts, and has used a cart under a judge’s order while the PGA appealed.

Dissenting Minds

Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented from the majority view, saying it stretched the meaning of the ADA to arrive at different sets of sporting rules for the able-bodied and the disabled. The law “mandates no such ridiculous thing,” according to Scalia.

The case is PGA Tour v. Martin, 00-24.

– Nevin Adams