Growing The Game Through People With Mobility Impairments

Editor’s Note: The following commentary originally appeared in the April 21, 2004, edition of The Wire. It was written by Tom Durbin of SoloRider LLC. SoloRider produces single rider golf cars that are available at golf facilities around the U S. Durbin can be reached at

The golf industry built and opened nearly six new golf courses every seven days on average over the past 20 years. Today, there is an abundant supply of golf courses, but the industry has struggled with growing the game in terms of participants and number of rounds of golf. The industry has a number of initiatives such as First Tee and Play Golf America, the latter of which was announced at this year’s PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando. Programs like this should be successful over time.

However, not enough has been done in two areas that can enable the industry to achieve growth and retain an important segment of golfers – those two areas are persons with disabilities and seniors who develop mobility impairments as they age.

With regard to persons with disabilities, over 15 million Americans use assistive devices and half of them are mobility devices – more than 2 million of the latter group use wheel chairs. About 22 percent of paralyzed veterans want to play golf. Rehabilitation hospitals are using golf as therapy, to encourage static and dynamic balance, to encourage leisure lifestyles and confidence, independent living, quality of life and to improve health. Some in the industry who recognize the potential market, are encouraging people with disabilities to get into golf through teaching programs like First Swing.

Interestingly, when introduced to the game, people with various disabilities develop a passion for golf. That is not only good for them, but for the golf industry – if the industry takes advantage of that opportunity. Persons with disabilities represent a large potential market, tens of millions of rounds of golf and billions in revenue.

What about seniors? A survey conducted recently indicated that rounds of golf played by seniors [55 and over] will grow more than 20 percent over the next two or three years compared with other age groups that will grow only a third of that rate. Seniors will represent 25 percent of our population within 15 years. According to the National Golf Foundation, avid golfers play 15 to 20 rounds of golf annually; many seniors play 15 to 20 rounds of golf monthly. As many seniors age they develop mobility issues and leave the game as a result. Golf courses need to encourage seniors’ continued participation, and offer ways to enable them to get closer to greens without causing damage to the turf.

Today, most golf courses do not offer single rider golf cars to enable persons with disabilities and seniors with mobility issues to play the game or stay in the game. Providing flags on standard cars may help seniors, but may cause some turf damage. Standard cars will not help most persons with mobility disabilities. Single rider golf cars can be used by able-bodied golfers, seniors and mobility-impaired persons. They can and should be included in the standard golf car rotation. They represent an economic opportunity and a quality product for the golf course to offer their customers. Single rider golf cars will not damage sensitive areas of golf courses. And, single rider golf cars are part of the solution to meeting the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act [ADA].

So, growing the game should not overlook a significant market segment: seniors who tend to leave the game when they develop mobility impairments and persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities may not have generated much demand in the past, but they will in the future because we are teaching them how to play a game for which they are developing a passion. And they are learning that they have certain rights under ADA guidelines. For golf course operators, this is much more than the right thing to do: it is an economic opportunity that can pay significant dividends. For the industry it is an opportunity to grow the game.

When public access golf courses post a sign that says Public Welcome, that often is not entirely true. Are people who need a special vehicle to play really welcome? What does welcome mean? Are we really welcome if we cannot play because of an impairment, or we can’t be accommodated?

Industry leaders are beginning to step up, making their facilities totally accessible . . . totally accessible means the golf course, the clubhouse and restrooms. Single rider cars are part of the accessibility solution. Persons with disabilities are part of the solution to growing the game.