New Law Has Provisions for Accessible Golf, Single-Rider Cars

On Wednesday President Bush signed into law a massive defense bill that among other provisions for improving military readiness, health care and pay makes golf more accessible for disabled American veterans.

The legislation (H.R. 5122, FY 2007 Defense Authorization) includes language originated by California Congressman Sam Farr (D-Carmel) aimed at adding single-rider golf cars at courses on U.S. military bases.

Bob Wilson, a disabled veteran who is executive director of the National Amputee Golf Association, reacted to the news with two words: "Hooray, hooray," he said. "Veterans who love golf and have some mobility problems will be head over heels about this."

According to a press release issued by Farr's Washington office, "As wounded soldiers and other military return from Iraq or other combat theaters, they are provided prosthetics and given intense physical therapy designed to bring them up to athletic competency. One of the key therapies employed is golf. But Farr discovered an irony in that once these newly rehabilitated persons are released from the hospital, they are unable to continue their physical conditioning because not many golf courses including those owned by the Department of Defense provide specialty golf carts that allow them the necessary mobility to swing even if they can't use their legs.

"But the military is not providing these carts even though they have an obligation to do so under federal law," Farr added. "I just wanted to make sure all the investment we make in rehabilitating the men and women who sacrificed for our nation is not squandered because military golf courses haven't provided the appropriate equipment."

The legal provisions Farr refers to are contained in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which requires the Department of Defense and other federal agencies to make their programs and activities accessible to disabled persons. Golf courses on military bases are a program or activity of the Defense Department, and adaptive golf carts should be provided to make the courses accessible to disabled persons in order to comply with Section 504, Farr said.

There are approximately 150 golf courses on military bases where more than 4 million rounds of golf per year are played. According to a survey by the Paralyzed Veterans of America, six percent of its members play golf and 21 percent said they would play if courses were accessible. Most military courses have a fleet of standard golf cars, but few have adaptive golf cars with a swivel seat and hand controls that can be used by disabled golfers who can't walk.

"The technology is there," said Farr. "There are carts that can carry the disabled right up to the tee box and not crunch a blade of grass."

The language in the bill directs the Secretary of Defense to conduct a study regarding access by disabled persons to military golf courses and report back to Congress in 180 days.

"The federal government is clearly indicating that military personnel should have the right to enjoy access to golf that is equal to that provided to able-bodied persons," said Roger Pretekin, founder and president of SoloRider Management LLC, which manufactures a specially designed golf car for disabled players and seniors with limited mobility.

Wilson, who lost both legs in 1974 while serving aboard the USS Kitty Hawk, said he's also hopeful the legislation will spur the rest of the golf industry to consider the benefits of single-rider golf cars. "This could not only benefit the disabled vet, but also anyone with a disability or mobility problem, if the golf industry understands the need to make courses more accessible."