Golf: An Update on the Movement Toward Full Inclusion of People with Disabilities
by Jennifer K. Skulski
with contributions from the National Alliance for Accessible Golf
" I love the game of golf. I'm probably going to play it for the rest of my life."
--Andy Lamb, Project GAIN participant
People with Disabilities Want to Play Golf
According to the National Golf Foundation, 26 million people played golf in 2002. In a random sampling survey of people with disabilities by the National Center on Accessibility and Clemson University, an estimated 10% of people with disabilities play golf; while 22% of people with disabilities not currently playing, played golf prior to acquiring a disability. The same survey showed that 35% of people with disabilities not currently playing, would like to play. The potential of 35% translates to several million new golfers.
- Quality customer service from golf course staff that are sensitive and knowledgeable about the needs of people with disabilities;
- Use of golf course facilities that are architecturally and programmatically accessible;
- Modification of golf course policies to permit accommodations for disability-related needs such as adapted equipment and assistive devices;
- Instruction from professionals willing and eager to make adaptations in technique and teaching style to the individualized needs of each golfer's ability;
- Opportunity to play with friends; or
- Walk-on as an individual and be placed in a foursome where the individual will be accepted and fully included with the other non-disabled golfers in the group.
Susan Deis is a software engineer for Verizon Wireless in Philadelphia. She has been a wheelchair user for 25 years, briefly played golf as a teen prior to her injury, and was reintroduced to the game by a friend about three years ago. “I've had the great good fortune of adding golf to my life. It has been a wonderful sport for me. I saw from the beginning how quickly big improvements came with each golf practice or game. I'm told that my experience is not unique and it sure has been fun. And I am having great fun playing with my folks and friends. It has opened up a new world for me. For the first time my folks and I can spend a day outside sharing in a sport we really enjoy together.”
Deis has played city, county and public golf courses in the Philadelphia area and comments, “The thing that impresses me most is the initial response I get when first coming to the course. The golf staff can respond in such a welcoming way to say, ‘welcome, hello, we have been waiting for you, this is what we have available….’ The total awareness of golfers with disabilities from the golf pro’s, the rangers and groundskeepers is so welcoming, as if they are happy to see me. And they want feedback on how they are doing. It makes me want to golf at their course.”
On a personal level, Deis also comments on the benefits of golf socially and in terms of her own health and fitness. “Whereas I was not able to golf nine holes in the beginning, I now have the stamina and energy to play nine and to pull a golf cart with ease. I can easily play 18 holes with energy to spare. When I go back and play courses that I haven't played in a while, I compare how well I played and the differences in ease
of play, energy-level and the score are incredible to me and my family. Improvements include upper body strength, stamina and coordination over the last 3 year and continue to get better. Of course this crosses over to my work and daily activities. I've really reached another level physically.”
Inclusion of Golfers with Disabilities is Good Business for Golf Course Operators
In a recreational sport struggling to maintain and grow the number of new golfers, disability advocates are trying to prove to the golf industry that people with disabilities should be considered as a viable new market. Market research through the 1980’s and 1990’s concluded that there would be an infiltration of new golfers and that there would not be enough golf courses to meet the need. Unfortunately, the 1990’s golf course building boom has not seen the record number of new golfers flock to the courses. In fact, the number of golfers looks to have stabilized. A 1999 study by the National Golf Foundation and McKinsey & Co. showed that golf was losing about as many players each year as the three million or so it managed to attract. Thus, for golf course owners and operators, holding on to existing golfers and attracting new golfers will be the difference to how many rounds a golf course can successfully record for an upcoming season.
As the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 requires public accommodations to be readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities, many business owners over the last 13 years have been fixated on the “unfunded mandates” of the legislation rather than the financial opportunities to making their business accessible to people with disabilities. Of the 54 million Americans with disabilities, this untapped market is estimated at having $214 billion in disposable income. Collectively, the segment market of people with disabilities had an income of $1 trillion in 2001. The affinity market of family and friends holds even more purchasing power. Typically, similar to people without disabilities, people with disabilities participate in recreation, go to movies, dine out, travel and shop with family and friends. Thus, the $214 billion in disposable income can be exponentially extended beyond the 54 million Americans to also include the disposable income of family and friends. That’s quite a few rounds of golf. Let’s do the math:
|*There are 54 million Americans with disabilities. If 35% of people with disabilities are interested in playing golf, an estimated 17 million people, and 50% or a little over 8 million actually begin playing golf and play one round, it would create more than $344 million in greens fees and cart rentals. The NGF estimates the average greens fee at $28 and the average cart rental at $12.|
New Accessibility Guidelines Define Access from the Clubhouse to the 18th Hole
- A required accessible route connecting the accessible elements and spaces within the boundary of the golf course.
- The accessible route is modified to 48 inches in width to permit continuous passage on which a motorized golf car can operate. While a golf car passage must be usable by golf cars, it does not necessarily need to have a prepared surface and may be part of a golf car path.
- Where curbs are provided along golf car passage openings of 60 inches minimum are required at intervals not to exceed 75 yards.
- The forward teeing ground for each hole must be connected by an accessible route or golf car passage.
- Where one or two teeing grounds are provided, at least the forward teeing ground must be accessible.
- Where more than two teeing grounds are provided, at least the forward teeing ground and an additional teeing ground must be accessible to allow for various skill levels.
- Each putting green must be designed to allow for a golf car to enter and exit the green.
- Weather shelters must have a minimum 60” x 96” clear floor space and allow for the entry and exit of a golf car.
- At driving ranges, both stand alone facilities and those that are part of the golf course, at least five percent, but not less than one, of the practice teeing grounds must be accessible and provide space for a golf car to enter and exit.
- The driving range must provide an accessible route or a golf car passage connecting the accessible teeing stations with the accessible parking spaces.
- How to provide access to automated systems for tee-time reservations for persons calling via TTY or relay service?
- What are reasonable pace of play policies?
- What are reasonable modifications to other types of policies such as taking golf cars into the parking lot?
- Is staff required to provide assistance with personal equipment?
- What guidelines or criteria should be used to allow for or disallow devices on the greens?
- Are single rider golf cars required under the ADA and whose responsibility is it to provide single rider cars?
- What guidelines related to weather and turf should be used to determine the appropriateness of allowing single rider golf cars or other devices on the golf course?
Alliance Among Golf Industry and Disability Advocates Encouraging Inclusion
The Alliance vision is such that through the game of golf individuals with disabilities become actively engaged in the social fabric of a community, and derive health benefits that improve quality of life. The driving forces behind the Alliance are the beliefs that:
- All individuals are entitled to play the game of golf regardless of their ability, socio-economic condition or experience.
- Golf contributes directly to social inclusion in the fabric of a community.
- The game of golf must be accessible and affordable for all.
- Direct health benefits are derived from playing golf.
- Information about the benefits of golf for persons with disability and the golf industry must be constantly shared with the media, public, health, rehabilitation, recreation and golf professionals.
Since the creation of the Alliance in 2001, the newly formed collaborative effort received start-up support through a Memorandum of Understanding with the University of Utah, Clemson University and Indiana University. The Alliance has also incorporated and become recognized as a non-profit with 501(3)(c) status. The Alliance is physically located at the National Center on Accessibility on the Indiana University-Bloomington campus.
The Alliance is concentrated on increasing the opportunities for people with disabilities to play golf, increasing awareness of the needs of golfers with disabilities amongst the golf industry, advancing the scientific understanding of the benefits of golf for people with disabilities, and providing technical assistance. One of the first initiatives of the Alliance was the creation of a Tool Kit for Golf Course Owners and Operators. The tool kit provides answers to frequently asked questions regarding the application of the Americans with Disabilities Act to golf courses. Also in the works are tool kits for rehabilitation professionals and golfers with disabilities.
A New Model: Project GAIN (Golf: Accessible and Inclusive Networks)
Golf is a sport that is much easier to learn with someone who is experienced than simply trying to learn on your own. Aimed at encouraging people with disabilities to play golf, many local communities host golf clinics or lessons either through the parks and recreation departments or physical therapy or rehabilitation programs. Many clinics are 1-2 days in length and teach potential new golfers the fundamentals of stance and swing, while perhaps also giving information on adapted equipment and additional resources. Unfortunately, for many participants their actual participation in golf only lasts for the duration of the clinic or lesson program and never ventures out onto the golf course itself. The potential new golfer’s experience becomes limited to the practice facility where the clinic takes place. In addition, individuals with disabilities participating in these types of programs rarely come back to the course after the program concludes to actually play golf.
Project GAIN (Golf: Accessible and Inclusive Networks) is the second major initiative of the National Alliance for Accessible Golf. The national research and development project is designed to set up community-based models of inclusive networks between golf professionals, golf course operators, parks and recreation departments, therapeutic recreation and rehabilitation specialists, advocacy organizations, and individuals with disabilities. According to the Alliance, the purpose of the project is to provide opportunities for people with disabilities to become involved in the game of golf – not just through lessons on how to hit the ball, but by involving them in the social and community aspects of the game as well. GAIN is also a research project examining the potential of the game of golf as a medium to maximize opportunities for inclusion of people with disabilities into the fabric of the local community. The project is funded by the United States Golf Association Foundation, the PGA TOUR and the PGA of America Foundation.
Salt Lake City was the first site to launch Project GAIN under the coordination of Dave Compton at the University of Utah. With more that 120 participants, Compton describes some of the GAIN activities designed to facilitate inclusion through golf, “We have had a number of inclusive activities throughout the course of the year ranging from a BBQ at a local driving range and putting/chipping contests. We planted flowers and cleaned up the garden at the golf course that hosted our GAIN lessons. We were successful in obtaining nearly 400 Weekly Grounds passes to the Nationwide tour stop here in SLC and gave the largest number of those to our GAIN participants, mentors and their families. As well, we participated in the Champions Challenge golf outing hosted by Johnny Miller. We were able to bring a number of our GAIN participants out to run a putting contest to raise money for GAIN. At the tournament Mike Weir, Jack Nicklaus, Billy Casper and Jim Furyk dropped by to see our display, pose for pictures and sign some autographs.”
In the short time Project GAIN has been underway, several success stories have already been recorded. Constonsa Alexander, the Chicago Project GAIN Coordinator reports, “My favorite story is that of a family whose daughter brought a long time friend as a mentor. Both enjoyed having this time together to learn something new. They have begun to go to the practice range together and to play outside of class sessions. The participant, mentor, and parents are all excited that it has bloomed into something great.”
The Uproar Over Adapted and Single Rider Golf Cars
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, public accommodations are required to provide auxiliary aids and services “necessary to ensure that no individual with a disability is excluded, denied services, segregated or otherwise treated differently than other individuals…” The U.S. Department of Justice regulations give examples of auxiliary aids and services to include qualified interpreters, written materials, assistive listening devices, open and closed captioning, Brailled materials, larger print, “acquisition or modification of equipment or devices; and other similar services and actions.” So the question as it relates to golf: Where an individual needs an adapted golf car to play golf from, are adapted golf cars and/or single rider golf cars considered auxiliary aids under the Americans with Disabilities Act and therefore required to be provided by the golf course? While golf course operators have argued since the passage of the ADA that use of these types of devices on the greens would damage the playing area, no research data has substantiated this claim. Inasmuch, the issue continues to be decided in the courts through litigation. Two notable settlement agreements to date include the City of Indianapolis and Sun City Summerlin Community Association, Inc.
In Las Vegas, a golfer filed a complaint against the Sun City Summerlin Community Association, Inc. According to the settlement agreement, the complaint alleged that the Association refused requests to modify rules restricting golf cart use to allow persons with disabilities to use accessible carts that would permit them to play on the course. The policy had restricted access to the greens and other areas of the course. Under the settlement agreement, the association has agreed to adopt a new policy to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability to permit power carts on paths, walkways, and greens formerly restricted to pedestrians whenever the cart is necessary to permit a qualified individual with a disability to play the course.
- Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines for Recreation Facilities
Toolkit for Golf Course Owners and Operators
From the Bag Drop to the 19th Hole: Tips for Making Individuals with Disabilities Feel Welcome at Your Golf Course or Golf Facility
For the Good of the Game: A Report on the Status of Golfers with Disabilities in America
Golf: You can play too!
- National Alliance for Accessible Golf
2805 East 10th St, Suite 190
Bloomington, IN 47408
(812) 856-4422 (voice)
(812) 856-4421 (tty)
National Center on Accessibility
2805 East 10th St, Suite 190
Bloomington, IN 47408
(812) 856-4422 (voice)
(812) 856-4421 (tty)
Resource Center for Individuals with Disabilities
About this Monograph
About the Author
Jennifer K. Skulski is Director of Marketing and Special Projects for the National Center on Accessibility.
Special thanks to Gary Robb, Executive Director of the National Center on Accessibility and President of the National Alliance for Accessible Golf, for his review and editorial contributions to this monograph.
Citation for this article is:
Skulski, J. (Fall 2003). Golf: an update on the movement toward full inclusion of people with disabilities. Bloomington, IN: National Center on Accessibility, Indiana University-Bloomington. Retrieved from www.ncaonline.org.