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Thursday, May 26, 2011

10th Anniversary of Casey Martin Ruling Against PGA Reminder of What's Wrong with Golf

A decade later, the arrogance of PGA officials and the so-called legends of the game of golf are just as outraging as ever.

Ten years ago this coming Sunday, May 29, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Casey Martin, who sued the PGA under the Americans with Disabilities Act for the right to use a golf cart while playing on the PGA Tour. Martin lives with Klippel Trenaunay Weber syndrome, which makes walking a golf course essentially impossible. In a despicable display, the leaders of this so-called sport lined up to protect the elitist nature of the game they clearly love far more than any notion of what is right.

Their words left no doubt about the country club nature of golf that says only the select few are welcomed. Golf is about more than the ability to hit a golf ball into a hole in fewer strokes than anybody else, they said loud and clear to anyone listening.

I never liked golf. It is a slow, absolutely boring game to watch. I’ve been told that my own inability to play it because of my own disability is why I can’t stand it. Yet, I can’t play the sports I love any more or less than I can play golf.

No, the reason I can’t stand golf is because it is a game of prejudice, and the Martin case proved it again.

A recent ESPN.com article reminded me that golf is about being allowed into the club and, more importantly, keeping the club free from those who aren’t quite socially acceptable in high society.

To a man, players and officials said their stance was not at all against Martin, but all for asserting walking as fundamental to golf at its highest level and ensuring no exceptions to tour rules for all competitors. Furthermore, they said, allowing a cart for any player would mean granting an unfair advantage and opening a Pandora's box of potential cart requests from players with varying degrees of ailments.

“The tour didn’t do it to be difficult or obstreperous, but to demonstrate it would maintain the integrity of the sport’s competitions,” said attorney William Maledon, who represented the tour in the District Court trial and in the appeal. “As difficult as this was for everybody, this truly was a matter of principle.”

To be blunt, that’s one of the bigger loads of crap I’ve ever read in my life.

In fact, the PGA’s own argument that walking is fundamental to the game of golf, as quoted here, is weak:

The PGA argued that the game of golf in general should be distinguished from the game as it is played in the PGA Tour, the Nike Tour and at the last stage of Q-School because this is golf at its “highest level.” Therefore, the goal, according to the PGA,

of the highest-level competitive athletics is to assess and compare the performance of different competitors, a task that is meaningful only if the competitors are subject to identical substantive rules. . . . As a consequence, the reasonable modification Martin seeks would fundamentally alter the nature of [the PGA’s] highest level tournaments even if he were the only person in the world who has both the talent to compete in those elite events and a disability sufficiently serious that he cannot do so without using a cart.

I’m certainly not a legal scholar or even a novice. But just reading the language seems to make it clear that they were trying to make up for not dealing with the so-called issue until Martin made the Tour.

If walking the course was fundamental to the game, Martin never would have made it to the point of being able to play on the PGA Tour. But the fact is that he reached that level by using a cart in Q-School. It simply made no sense to allow Martin to earn his spot on the tour using a cart if it fundamentally altered the game.

It would be like the Phillies letting their minor league players use aluminum bats, then calling them up to the majors to hit with wooden bats only to be baffled by the drop-off in performance.

No one ever considered walking the course a fundamental part of golf before it could be used as an excuse to keep the game free of what these elitists considered an undesirable. The very fact that these people would have to make a point to explain that walking the course was a fundamental part of golf makes it clear that they were lying.

Does anyone even remotely familiar with baseball need to have it explained to them that hitting is a fundamental part of the game? Of course not.

I know next to nothing about soccer, and I don’t need anyone to explain that endurance is a key to playing that sport.

But the last sentence quoted above, meant to be the crux of their argument, reveals the PGA’s argument as nonsense. “[T]he reasonable modification Martin seeks would fundamentally alter the nature of [the PGA’s] highest level tournaments even if he were the only person in the world who has both the talent to compete in those elite events and a disability sufficiently serious that he cannot do so without using a cart.”

The PGA is admitting right there that it is possible to have the talent to play golf at the elite level without the ability to walk the course. How could Martin possibly be “the only person in the world who has . . . the talent to compete in those elite events” with “a disability sufficiently serious that he cannot do so without using a cart” if that same disability precluded him from walking the course if it is to be believed that walking the course is fundamental to playing golf in the first place?

The answer seems clear: It’s not possible.

The PGA’s argument was meant to do nothing more than veil the prejudiced nature of golf’s officials and participants.

It’s disgusting to watch the video below hearing a guy like Jack Nicklaus and, especially, Arnold Palmer speak out against giving Martin the opportunity to compete in feigned deference to a game.

In his 1998 deposition on allowing the use of a cart, Palmer said, “I feel that if we change this rule that we will change the nature of the game of golf on the face of the Earth.”

First of all, did Arnie seriously need to go with the phrase “face of the Earth?” Could we be any more dramatic? It’s golf.

But the Supreme Court didn’t bite, essentially telling Arnie and friends that they were full of it. From the article:

In delivering the 7-2 majority opinion for Martin, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens cited the tour’s failure to consider evidence of Martin’s disability and said the tour’s walking rule was “at best peripheral” and “not an indispensable feature” of golf at any level. He added the rule might therefore be waived in individual cases without a “fundamental alteration.”

Ironically, the PGA and their revered legends were even more ignorant than first thought. For better or worse, the case and the ruling was very specific to Martin. For all of the patronizing of Martin by the PGA, the debate was absolutely against him as an individual.

Stevens also said that under the ADA, golfers who would qualify for an exemption were those for whom walking the course was “beyond their capacity,” not simply uncomfortable or difficult.

Predictably, little about the prejudiced attitude of the PGA has changed.

Tim Finchem, PGA Tour commissioner at the time of the controversy through to the present, says in the below ESPN video, “I don’t have any regrets. I think we handled it right. I think we had to make the case we made. I’m pleased the Supreme Court came down the way they did, specifically the way they did. I can’t think of anything that we could’ve done during that period that would somehow make it easier for Casey.”

No one should be surprised.

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