2005: Seniors to sue Tour for right to ride

Kaupulehu-Kona, Hawaii

The 26th Champions Tour season began beneath blue skies in tropical paradise at Hualalai Golf Club, but a dark cloud loomed. Sources told Golfweek a lawsuit will be filed in the next few weeks on behalf of several Champions Tour players seeking to overturn the tour’s refusal to allow the use of carts in tournament rounds.

The suit, to be filed against the PGA Tour, parent of the Champions Tour, likely will cite age discrimination among its grounds, and will be filed by the time the Champions Tour begins its Florida swing next month, according to tour player Ed Fiori.

“All the Tour is trying to do is run the old guys off,” said Fiori, who is expected to be joined in the suit by six to eight players. “It’s discrimination is what it is. The Tour is not thinking straight. (At) the height of the tour, everybody is riding carts and nobody cares. We’re in the entertainment business here.”

In past seasons, either a player or his caddie (not both) was allowed use of a golf cart; the new policy banning carts in tournament rounds was announced in November 2003 and went into effect last week. Toward the end of 2004, 12 to 15 players per week were riding. Fiori said he and several other players who are unhappy with the new regulation have had ongoing discussions with lawyers and plan to file suit before the Ace Group Classic Feb. 18-20 in Naples, Fla. There also is hope the American Civil Liberties Union will take interest in the players’ cause.

Fiori said he wasn’t sure when or where the lawsuit would be filed. He also said it has yet to be decided whether the suit would seek monetary damages from the Tour.

“Some of the players feel they’ve been damaged if you force them to walk,” said Fiori, 51, who had a heart attack in January 2004 and has battled other health issues. “I’m probably the main case everybody is pointing toward, but guys have back injuries, foot injuries. Nothing good can come of this (not being able to ride). Somebody is going to die out here, and we don’t want to see that. And I really don’t want it to be me.”

Told about the pending litigation, Champions Tour president Rick George told Golfweek, “We’ll respond

to it when we see a lawsuit. Beyond that, I don’t really want to comment on it. We knew there was always the possibility (of a lawsuit). But beyond that . . . I think it’s unfortunate.”

Tom Purtzer, who said he needs a cart to play a full schedule, said roughly “10 to 12 players” are hindered by the new cart policy. Purtzer has a bad lower back, a

congenital affliction that has troubled him since his latter

days on the PGA Tour. He said he can swing a club, but has trouble when he has to swing and walk.

Purtzer confirmed he and other players have consulted with attorney Leonard Decof, who represented Ping in the famous square grooves lawsuit against the PGA Tour.

“He (Decof) wants to sue the tour for a bunch of money, and we don’t want to do that,” Purtzer said. “All we want is the ability to be able to use a cart, which they’ve used for 25 years (on the Senior/Champions Tour). Hopefully the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) is going to look at it.”

Players at the MasterCard Championship were allowed to use carts in pro-am rounds, but had to walk once the tournament began Jan. 21. Players were required to walk in seven Champions events last season – the tour’s five majors, the First Tee Open at Pebble Beach and the Charles Schwab Championship – but were allowed to use carts in 23 other events.

This season, only two tournaments – the Allianz Championship at the Tournament Club of Iowa and the Greater Hickory Classic at Rock Barn Golf & Spa in Conover, N.C. – will allow use of carts in tournament rounds. George said the courses that play host to those events have terrain that is difficult to walk.

For months, the issue to ride or not to ride has been a lightning rod that has divided Champions Tour management and players. Purtzer said carts are basically a “pet peeve” of two influential people: George and PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem.

“They’ve had carts for 25 years, and all of a sudden it’s a problem,” he said. “I just don’t understand it. It’s an issue that’s really divided the tour.”

Said George: “It has to do with image. It has to do with the fan. We think it’s better for the fans and the viewers and provides a better look to our (television) broadcasts, and it’s better for the condition of the golf course.”

Gary Player, Tom Watson and Hale Irwin all have supported the new policy.

“The whole idea in golf,” said Player, “is that we’ve got to remember we are athletes. The average man on the street does not want to see us zooming away in a golf cart when he’s walking around (in the gallery).”

Fiori counters that players conducted three separate votes on carts last season, and “80 percent” approved their use, even though 80 percent don’t ride.

“When 80 percent of the players voted for carts and the commissioner says ‘No,’ maybe our commissioner needs to go,” Fiori said. “That’s just my opinion.”




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