Casey Martin’s fight to ride a cart on the pro golf tour headed for a trial Monday after a federal magistrate rejected the PGA Tour’s argument that it is private and exempt from disability laws.
Martin, a 25-year-old golfer with a degenerative circulation problem in his leg, ignited a national debate with his lawsuit pitting the rights of the disabled against the “walking-only” tradition of pro golf.
His suit contends the PGA Tour is a public entity, and under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act must provide reasonable accommodation for someone with a permanent disability.
In turning down the PGA’s request to dismiss the lawsuit, U.S. Magistrate Tom Coffin said golf courses during tournaments are “places of public accommodation” as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“What is the PGA Tour? It is an organization formed to provide and operate tournaments for the economic benefit of its members,” Coffin said. “It is part of the entertainment industry, just as all (pro) sports are.”
“I’m grateful,” Martin said. His attorneys advised him to limit his comments before his case goes to trial Feb. 2.
PGA Tour lawyer William Maledon argued during the hearing that, like the Boy Scouts of America, the tour sets the criteria for membership, and should be similarly exempted from the ADA.
In addition, Maledon said while the ADA applies to portions of the golf course where the public watches, it does not apply to the portion “inside the ropes” where the golfers compete. He added tour golfers are independent contractors not subject to the law’s protections afforded employees.
When the case goes to trial, the PGA is also expected to argue that walking is an essential part of tournament golf, and allowing one person to ride a cart would be unfair to all the other competitors. Many pro golfers have said they feel competitors have always walked and to change would give Martin an unfair advantage.