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Americans with Disabilities Act / Single Rider Golf Cars

BACKGROUND

The Americans with Disabilities Act, which became law in 1990, is a milestone in America's commitment to full and equal opportunity for all of its citizens. Beginning in 2000, when several manufacturers began introducing accessible golf cars (also known as single-rider golf cars) for use by golfers with a physical disability, the ADA took on added relevance for golf courses and their owners. The big question: Are courses required by law to provide accessible golf cars?

In its latest action on the subject, on June 4, 2008, the Department of Justice (DOJ) posted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on its website. Many in the golf industry expected the 2008 NPRM to specifically address the accessible golf car issue. Instead the DOJ stated, “The Department has decided not to add a regulation (to the ADA) specifically addressing accessible golf cars at this time.  As with free-standing equipment, the Department believes that the existing regulation is adequate to address this issue.”

In 2006, the Department of Defense issued a regulatory ruling mandating that all military golf courses acquire accessible golf cars.

IMPLICATIONS FOR GOLF COURSE OWNERS & OPERATORS

While the DOJ in 2008 decided the regulations did not need to be amended to include a regulation specific to accessible golf cars, course owners and operators would be wise not to misinterpret the department’s position.

The DOJ has, in fact, used existing ADA regulations in several court cases in recent years to require accessible golf cars. In the highest profile judgment thus far, following a complaint brought by two California disabled golfers against Marriott International, a California district court judge ruled that Marriott must provide accessible golf cars. One way to look at the situation is that DOJ regulations spell out how to comply with the ADA, but they do not specifically cover every example of noncompliance. The department considers accessible golf cars equipment to aid in a disabled person’s full and equal access to public facilities, and it does not specifically address all equipment requirements as they relate to golf or any other entity that falls under purview of the ADA.

The test of ADA compliance within the eye of the law is full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities and privileges to the disabled person as that afforded the able bodied; in other words, a functionally equivalent experience. To that end, a business or facility must be prepared not to discriminate.  Thus, in the absence of a specific DOJ regulation addressing accessible golf cars, the door remains open for disabled golfers to litigate in an effort to assert their belief that they are entitled to an accessible golf car under ADA guidelines.

WHERE WE STAND

The NGCOA shares the American ideals for equal access as well as those that support a free market system. We also encourage our members, as well as all courses, to make their best efforts to make golf accessible to anyone who wants to play the game. We applaud courses that have decided to add accessible golf cars to their golf car fleets as a means of bringing more people into the game and growing their business. However, we have not felt it fair to require this additional expense of course owners and have made this point to the DOJ.

WHAT THE NGCOA IS DOING

The NGCOA is continuing to monitor the situation and will make members aware of any proposed changes in Department of Justice guidelines regarding this issue.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Golf course owners who want to avoid or minimize legal disputes and serve a portion of the community of individuals with disabilities who may not be able to play golf without an accessible golf car would be well-served to review ADA guidelines and consult an attorney for further guidance. In addition, the NGCOA encourages courses to follow these guidelines when serving golfers with disabilities, mindful that neither individually nor collectively do they provide compliance or offer legal protection:

  • Be hospitable. Welcome the golfer and orient him or her as you would any valued patron. Also, share with them that their safety is of paramount concern, especially when operating an accessible golf car. Operating procedures vary significantly from one model to another, and manufacturers design cars with a variety of functions. Be sure to explain the unique features of your car.
  • Highlight any specific areas on the course that may be deemed unsafe due to extreme slope or conditions that could affect the stability of an accessible golf car. Print the information on a form for the golfer to sign and date, and then keep a copy on file.
  • Contact your insurance provider to ensure that any pooling and/or accessible golf car you utilize is covered for liability. (Note: Pooling accessible golf cars among golf courses has increased the number of golf courses that have a car for individuals who request them.)
  • Price fees analogously. Do not charge more or less for green and cart fees to individuals with disabilities than are charged to those without disabilities. 

RECENT UPDATES

Accessible/Single-Rider Golf Cars
Recently, the U.S. Department of Justice provided guidance on the ADA requirement for “Wheelchairs, Mobility Aids and Other Power-Driven Mobility Devices” for title II (state and local government services) and title III (public accommodations and commercial facilities).   The Department of Justice recognizes that there is no 'one-size-fits all' when it comes to Americans with disabilities and has not made the requirement of accessible/ single-rider golf cars.

The NGCOA encourages golf course owners/operators to be proactive in reaching out to individuals with disabilities and to use the game to foster inclusion and to grow your business.

To download your Toolkit for Golf Course Owners, visit National Alliance of Accessible Golf at www.accessgolf.org. To learn more about the Department of Justice revised regulations, visit www.ada.gov/opdmd.htm

WHERE TO LEARN MORE 

National Center on Accessibility 

LEGISLATIVE INFORMATION

Proposed Regulations
Federal Court Ruling on Golf Accessibility
Dept of Justice ADA Home Page

RELATED RESOURCES

Adaptive Golf Presentation - PGA Merchandise Show
Speechless - Special Olympics Clip
NGCOA Letter to Department of Justice
Americans with Disabilities Act
ADA Accessibility Guidelines
Accessibility Toolkit for Course Owners