The story of Casey Martin and his golf cart is one of the most famous chapters in the disability rights movement’s history. His saga eventually led to the Supreme Court, which ruled in 2001 that the Professional Golf Association’s rule prohibiting Martin from using a golf court in PGA Tour events violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
More than a decade later, Martin finds himself once again fighting for his rights.
On June 24, Martin, now the University of Oregon golf coach, was observing potential recruits at the U.S. Junior Amateur qualifier in Oceanside, Calif. At the sixth hole, the tournament chairman approached Martin, informing him that since he was an observer, not a competitor, in the tournament, he was not allowed to ride in his golf cart, according to GolfWeek.
For Martin, it was a moment of disbelief.
“It was brutal, the worst experience of my golfing career,” Martin told USA TODAY . “The long story short: I’m living my life, doing my job, and it sucked to have that taken away. I felt like I got on the bus and they ordered me to the back or even to get off.”
The United State Golf Association has since apologized.
“The unfortunate situation at the U.S. Junior qualifier stems from a misunderstanding over the USGA Cart Policy at our championship events,” the USGA said in a statement. “We regret that this misunderstanding may have caused Casey an inconvenience, but it certainly was unintentional.”
The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in places of public accommodation, including golf courses, which Congress specifically listed when creating the law.
Under the PGA rules, competitors are required to walk between each of the 18 holes. Martin, whose Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome limits his ability to walk long distances, argued he would be unable to compete with being accommodated with a golf cart.
The district court found that even with the cart, Martin “easily endures greater fatigue” than his competitors. Relying on this finding and the ADA’s public accommodation language, the Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, found that the PGA must provide Martin a cart as a reasonable accommodation pursuant to the ADA.
“A modification that provides an exception to a peripheral tournament rule without impairing its purpose cannot be said to ‘fundamentally alter’ the tournament,” the court stated. “What it can be said to do, on the other hand, is to allow Martin the chance to qualify for and compete in the athletic events petitioner offers those members of the public who have the skill and desire to enter. That is exactly what the ADA requires.”