In an instance of history repeating itself, Casey Martin finds himself at odds with a major golf organization over the use of a golf cart.
Martin, the men’s coach at Oregon who was born with a debilitating condition in his right leg that makes walking difficult, was denied the use of a cart Monday while recruiting at a U.S. Junior Amateur qualifier in Oceanside, Calif.
Martin, 41, who has blood-circulation difficulties because of Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome, won a 2001 Supreme Court decision against the PGA Tour that allowed his use of a cart during tournaments because of his disability.
Now, his dispute lies with the U.S. Golf Association.
Before Martin arrived at El Camino Golf Club for Monday’s qualifier, he said he emailed tournament chairman Matt Pawlak to secure the use of a cart, which was granted. On the sixth hole, Martin was in the cart when he was approached by Pawlak and told that USGA rules prohibited spectators from using golf carts. Martin relinquished the cart.
“I’ve never felt more discriminated against or unfairly taken advantage of in my entire life,” Martin told Golfweek that evening.
Pawlak said the USGA contacted the tournament and asked that Martin not use a cart.
“He wasn’t happy about it,” Pawlak said, “but he accepted it.”
When contacted by Golfweek for comment, the USGA issued a statement:
“The United States Golf Association has been and continues to be a strong supporter of Casey Martin. The unfortunate situation at the U.S. Junior qualifier stems from a misunderstanding over the USGA Cart Policy at our championship events. We regret that this misunderstanding may have caused Casey an inconvenience, but it certainly was unintentional. We have extended to Casey accommodations that we offer all disabled spectators at our championships. Despite this unfortunate situation, we continue to admire what Casey has been able to accomplish in the game as both a player and a coach.”
Martin said that Mike Davis, the USGA’s executive director, apologized to him after Martin had called to discuss the incident.
Martin contacted the Oregon Office of Affirmative Action & Equal Opportunity for legal advice. A phone message left with Penelope Daugherty, the office’s director, was not immediately returned.
Martin said a similar incident occurred a week earlier during a U.S. Junior Amateur qualifier at Emerald Valley Golf Club in Creswell, Ore. He said he was using a cart when told that it conflicted with USGA rules. He gave up the cart and was told to seek a single-rider cart at the clubhouse, but said none was available. At that point, Martin left the tournament. Coincidentally, Martin had qualified for the 2012 U.S. Open at Emerald Valley.
In the USGA’s 2013 “Qualifying Manual,” a section addresses carts at USGA events:
Golf Carts/Scooters for Spectators – Golf carts will not be provided to spectators (including club members) at any USGA Qualifying location or the Championship proper, regardless of availability at the site or condition of spectator. The USGA makes scooter transport units available at most Championship sites on a first come, first served basis. Offering to take a “disabled” person to a couple of selected spots on the course to view play as it comes through that area is acceptable and should be encouraged. No one will be shuttled to view play hole by hole, regardless of their condition or relationship to a player in the event.
In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court cited the Americans With Disabilities Act in a 7-2 ruling that the PGA Tour must allow Martin to ride in a golf cart between shots at Tour events.
That use “is not a modification that would fundamentally alter the nature” of the PGA Tour, said Justice John Paul Stevens, who delivered the majority opinion.
Martin played the PGA Tour in 2000 after having qualified in 1999 by placing 14th in earnings on what was then the Nike Tour. Martin returned to the developmental tour for the 2001-03 seasons, then played a reduced schedule from 2004 to ’06.
Martin, a Eugene, Ore., native and member of Stanford’s 1994 NCAA championship team, has coached Oregon’s men since 2006.