What's at stake
Equal access to golf for those with limited movement.
Video: Back on course
September 22, 2007) A year ago, multiple sclerosis made playing golf so frustrating that Steve Clements was ready to give up the game.
But with a special single-rider cart that now allows him to drive onto tee boxes and greens, the 51-year-old from Caledonia, Livingston County, is playing nearly as much as he was before being diagnosed with MS 17 years ago. Even if you don't have about $7,000 to spend on a single-rider cart, many area courses allow golfers with limited mobility to drive closer to greens with regular riding carts by giving them a special flag to fly on it.
"The amount of people that don't play golf because they're impaired somehow is astounding," Clements said. "There's 2 million people who've given up the game because of arthritis, MS or generally just because they're getting older or don't have the stamina anymore to play 18 holes."
But they don't have to give up the game.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits discrimination in the areas of employment, public services and transportation, public accommodations and telecommunications services. That applies to public golf courses, too. They must provide access to facilities, their clubhouse, pro shop, course and practice range.
Casey Martin is probably the most widely known disabled golfer. He took on the PGA Tour for years, saying he needed a cart because of a degenerative leg ailment. In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his favor.
Tom Durbin, vice president of cart manufacturer SoloRider, said the U.S. Department of Justice is reviewing whether to require public courses to own single-rider carts and offer them to golfers.
For now, that's not the case. But courses must allow access to anyone with a single-rider cart if they want to transport one there.
"Of course we'd allow it. You can't discriminate," said Vic Colombini, owner of Deerfield Country Club in Clarkson.
Clements did say one area course told him they didn't want him to play on their course, but he declined to name it.
"I don't want to make anybody mad. I just want to play golf," said Clements, whose wedding to Kris Burkhart is set for today on the 18th green at their home course, Caledonia Country Club.
Deerfield gives any disabled or limited-mobility golfers a flag to attach to its regular riding carts. Shadow Lake and Shadow Pines, two of the most popular golf courses on Rochester's east side, do the same.
The flag also signals to other golfers and course rangers that the cart is allowed to be closer to greens and tees. There isn't a standard color or size for such flags, so they may vary from course to course.
CenterPointe Golf and Country Club, a semi-private course in Canandaigua, doesn't even require flags. It used to, but now it just alerts its rangers.
"We just ask (golfers) to use common sense," said head pro Jim Buchanan. "We ask that they drive up on a flat part of the green and down on it. We haven't had a problem in years."
Clements began having more problems last year with his legs.
"It was a struggle," he said of golfing, even out of a regular cart that he could drive close to greens. "It got too hard."
And that's from a guy whose self-deprecating humor is legendary at Caledonia CC.
"One time he fell flat on his face on a green," recalled longtime Caledonia course superintendent Ernie Baker. "We all ran over to help and he said, 'Wait! Ernie, I've got a problem. I see some poa-anna (weed) down here (on the green)!' We all just started laughing."
The SoloRider has changed his life.
Caledonia Country Club hosted a golf tournament to raise money so Clements could buy a single-rider cart. He retired five years ago from a tool-and-die company.
Friend Don Sears found SoloRider on the Internet, and Caledonia Country Club owners Bob and Josephine Weitzel donated the course for the day.
"I wouldn't be playing if it wasn't for Bob and his wife," Clements said.
Caledonia Country Club is planning on buying a second cart soon for others to use.
The cart is quite a piece of machinery. Clements can drive it on the greens and tee boxes and even in sand traps without damaging them. On the top-of-the-line model, which Caledonia Country Club has, a motorized seat even swivels to the side of the cart and adjusts in height. Clements can actually lean on the seat and take a full swing.
He still drives the ball 180 yards, and his hybrid is the best club in his bag.
Country Club of Rochester is one of the few, if not the only, area courses that owns a single-rider cart. Al Antonez, general manager of the private course in Pittsford, said CCR has had one for about five years and a handful of members use it regularly.
"Even if we used it once a year, it's worth it," Antonez said.
That's because of the reaction he sees from golfers who've returned to the game thanks to the single-rider cart.
"You see a guy's face and he's just beaming," Antonez said. "It's a second lease on a game that they love."
But the golf industry hasn't warmed up to single-rider carts, Durbin said.
"It's scared to death of people slowing up play or tearing up a golf course," he said. "But our cart is designed so it's almost impossible to tear up the turf. You can't spin the wheels, and the weight is evenly distributed."
"It's the right thing to do," Antonez said about buying a single-rider cart for golfers to use. "(The cart) really has no bigger footprint (on greens) than some maintenance vehicles we use."