Accessible Golf Cars



The ADA already requires golf courses to provide accessible golf cars for use by people with disabilities through, at a minimum, its general non-discrimination requirements. Public and private entities that operate golf courses are required to engage in a considered process to provide accessible golf cars.

It should also be noted that the Department of Interior (DOI) has been designated by regulation as the federal agency with authority to interpret Title II access to golf courses. 28 CFR 35:190(b)(5) For over a decade, DOI has informed the public that a public golf course which provides golf cars on a rental basis must also make accessible golf cars available for rent, stating that the provisions of accessible golf cars is a required reasonable modification.

Also, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2007 contained a provision requiring the Department of Defense to report to Congress as to whether it was required to make its recreational facilities accessible to people with disabilities. The Defense Department then issued a Report to Congress acknowledging that it was required to do so, and stated that it would purchase or lease two accessible golf cars for each of its courses.[1]

The comments below are the provisions, reasons, and analysis we propose about how to regulate this current requirement.

Question 14(a). What is the most effective means of addressing the needs of golfers with mobility disabilities?

The most effective means of addressing the needs of golfers with mobility disabilities who need accessible golf cars, is for golf courses to provide accessible golf cars. According to the U.S. Census there are over 20 million persons who either can’t walk or have difficulty walking. Some of these individuals played golf before they became disabled, and desire to continue playing golf. Others who did not play golf before becoming disabled, desire to play golf for many reasons. In order to play, some people with mobility disabilities need to use an accessible golf car. Most people with disabilities who need accessible golf cars cannot play because the golf courses in their area do not provide an accessible golf car. Therefore, the most effective means of addressing these needs is a requirement that golf courses provide accessible golf cars.

Regulation is necessary to avoid piecemeal litigation.

There are 16,000 golf courses in the U.S. Nine thousand (9,000) of those are privately funded courses open to the public and covered by Title III of the ADA, 2,500 are publicly funded courses covered by Title II (often managed by Title III entities), and the balance are private. Less than 500 public courses have accessible golf cars. Thus, about 96% of golf courses are not accessible.[2]

In addition to the positions of the Departments of Interior and Defense about the requirements for accessible golf cars (see above), in 2008, a federal court concluded in a lawsuit involving Marriott golf courses, that golf courses were required to provide accessible golf cars.[3] Unfortunately, very few courses have done so. In fact, less than 100 accessible golf cars were sold to golf courses in the past two years.[4] In the absence of regulation, golfers with disabilities who need accessible golf cars will have no recourse but to pursue litigation, golf course by golf course, in order to achieve their rights under the ADA. This can be avoided by clear regulation.

Question 14(b). Are golf cars currently available that are readily adaptable for the addition of hand controls and swivel seats? If so, are those cars suitable for driving on greens?

Available adaptable golf cars

There are no standard golf cars currently available that are readily adaptable for the addition of hand controls and swivel seats.

There are three primary manufacturers of standard golf cars. None of them has attempted to adapt their cars with the addition of hand controls and swivel seats. Nor has there been any effort by an after-market manufacturer to adapt a standard golf car. Such an effort has several obstacles.

  • The top and windshield must be removed in order for the golfer to take a full swing.
  • A golf bag holder has to be placed in the front of the car.
  • The driver’s side on a standard car is on the left. A right-handed golfer would need the swivel seat on the right side. For each shot, the golfer would need to transfer from the drivers seat to the swivel seat, not an easy task to do 100 times in a round.

Suitability for driving on greens

A standard golf car weighs more than an accessible golf car. Moreover, in an accessible golf car, the weight is evenly distributed with the batteries in the front while the standard golf car has most of the weight in the back. Experience has shown that accessible golf cars are suitable for driving on the greens. It is not clear whether a standard golf car would be suitable for driving on the greens.

Question 14(c). To what extent are accessible golf cars of all types stable, lightweight, and moderately priced?

Lightweight and no damage to course.

There are five accessible golf cars on the market today. They are all significantly lighter than regular golf cars. They have been used for at least ten years on some of the finest golf courses in the country, such as Pebble Beach and Cypress Point, without damage to the course.

Moderately priced.

Accessible golf cars range in price from $6000 to $10,000. Considering that the average golf course has revenues in excess of $1,250,000 annually, an accessible golf car that cost less than 1% of annual revenues is moderately priced.[5] In addition, the car generates revenue from the fee charged for its use and the greens fees from the golfer with a disability and any friends s/he brings to the course.

Stability

The stability of accessible golf cars is a legitimate concern. Regular golf cars have ANSI certified safety standards, which include tests of stability. There are no current safety standards for accessible golf cars. However, there have been two developments in this area. First, two of the accessible golf cars have been tested by the Human Engineering Research Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh and have been found to pass the stability tests for regular golf cars. Second, Mobility Golf, a non-profit corporation, has been certified by ANSI as a standards developer and is currently leading an effort to develop safety standards for accessible golf cars. That process should be completed by the end of 2011.

Question 15. What are appropriate scoping requirements for accessible golf cars? Should the criteria used to determine scoping stem from factors including the number of golf course patrons, the number of golfing holes (e.g. nine, 18, or 27) at the facility, the number of inaccessible golf cars in use, or other criteria? Should each 18-hole course be required to provide a certain number of accessible golf cars?

Two cars per facility

Each golf facility, regardless of the number of holes or courses, should be able to provide two accessible golf cars. This will permit two golfers with disabilities to play the same course on the same day. It will also permit two disabled golfers to play together.

In order to minimize the cost to a small business of providing two accessible golf cars, we recommend that this requirement be phased in over a two-year period. This would enable the course owner to take advantage of the tax credit for each of the cars.

Standup Seat.

Several of the accessible golf cars have a seat that tilts so the golfer is supported by the seat and can swing a club from close to a normal golfing stance, often referred to as a standup seat.

The Department should require accessible golf cars to have a standup seat, because:

  • Golf is played from a standing position and not a seated position
  • At least 90% of potential golfers with disabilities are able to use a standup seat
  • Seated golfers need to get specialized golf clubs with a different lie angle while those using a standup seat can use standard golf clubs
  • An accessible golf car with a standup seat can accommodate both a seated golfer and a standing golfer
  • Accessible golf cars with a standup seat are currently available from several manufacturers

Maintenance

Once golf courses have accessible golf cars, they will be subject to the ADA’s maintenance of accessible features requirements. DOJ should reiterate this point, so golf course managers understand the importance of maintenance.

Benefits of providing accessible golf cars

There are important intangible benefits to inclusion of people with disabilities into the sport of golf. Making golf accessible allows a person with a disability to play a mainstream sport, and provides him or her with the benefits of physical exercise. It also is a way of including people with disabilities in an important aspect of social interactions and with the consequent increase in self-esteem. Integrating golfers with disabilities allows them to participate in tournaments and attend golf outings as part of business development or employer-sponsored events. It breaks down stereotypes of people with disabilities as “different” or lacking in physical skill.

For many elderly golfers, golf is their primary form of social interaction. When they stop playing due to health reasons, they lose their connectedness to this community. For those seniors who quit playing because of a mobility impairment, the availability of a single rider car would permit them to continue their friendships and camaraderie.

Question 23. The Department seeks input regarding the impact the measures being contemplated by the Department with regard to accessible equipment and furniture will have on small entities if adopted by the Department. The Department encourages you to include any cost data on the potential economic impact on small entities with your response.

Question 24. Are there alternatives that the Department can adopt, which were not previously discussed, that will alleviate the burden on small entities? Should there be different compliance requirements or timetables for small entities that take into account the resources available to small entities or should the Department adopt an exemption for certain or all small entities from coverage of the rule, in whole or in part. Please provide as much detail as possible in your response.

There are a variety of ways that the financial impact can be mitigated for small entities, and, in some cases, for large entities as well.

  • Golf cars are typically leased. The accessible golf car could be added to the master lease for the golf car fleet. This would result in a modest increase in the monthly lease payment rather than a capital outlay.
  • If it was not possible to add the accessible golf car to the master lease, it could be separately leased. The monthly payment for a 5-year lease for a $10,000 accessible golf car is approximately $215 per month.
  • A regular golf car accommodates two persons. However, every day, there are many occasions when only one golfer is using a golf car. A golf course with one or more accessible golf cars could reduce its golf car fleet by its number of accessible golf cars, using them when only one person needs a golf car.
  • A small business tax credit is available, which reduces the cost by half and makes the accessible golf car comparable in price to a regular golf car. Most golf courses would qualify since they do not employ more than 30 full-time employees.

Implementation of the regulation

A new golf facility shall comply with the regulation upon the initiation of operations. Existing facilities shall comply within 12 months of the issuance of the regulation provided it is readily achievable. If implementation is not readily achievable within 12 months of the issuance of the regulation, the golf facility shall comply on the next occasion when 25% or more of its golf car fleet is either replaced or released.

Timing of the regulation.

Every subject area in this ANPRM is of vital importance to the disability community across the United States. We urge the Department tomove ahead with eacharea of rulemaking independently as it is able, and notallow time delays in onearea to hold up rulemaking on the other issues raisedin this ANPRM, and in all ofthe ANPRMs issued by the Department in July 2010.


[1] “Report To Congress: Access of Disabled Persons to Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) Facilities and Activities,” Department of Defense (report is undated).

[2] National Golf Foundation website, Frequently Asked Questions and Operating & Financial Performance Profiles of 18-Hole Golf Facilities in the United States, July 2010.

[3] In Celano et al. v. Marriott Intern., Inc., 2008 WL 239306, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS, the court found that Marriott violated the ADA “by failing to provide accessible golf carts as a reasonable accommodation for plaintiffs’ mobility impairments.”After the decision, the court issued a Permanent Injunction that applied to courses that Marriott either owned or managed. It stated: “Marriott shall provide at least one accessible golf car at facilities with up to 18 holes. Marriott shall provide at least two accessible golf cars at facilities with more than 18 holes. ” The Injunction defined an accessible golf car as:

“a. The car is specifically designed and manufactured for the use of individuals with mobility impairments;

b. The car has a brake and accelerator that are operated by hand controls;

c. The car is designed and manufactured to be driven on all areas of a golf course, including pathways, tees, fairways, bunkers and greens;

d. The car has a seat that swivels; and

e. The car has a seat that tilts to put the golfer into a standing or semi- standing position;”

There were also provisions in the Injunction for maintenance of the cars, training of personnel, and publicizing the availability of the cars.

[4] Personal communications with accessible golf car manufacturers.

[5] National Golf Foundation website, Operating & Financial Performance Profiles of 18-Hole Golf Facilities in the United States, July 2010.