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Judge rules that Casey Martin can use cart
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Judge rules that Casey Martin can use cart

Casey Martin can keep riding.

An appeals court ruled today that federal disability law entitles the golfer with a painful leg condition to use a cart during PGA Tour-sanctioned events.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a magistrate's 1998 ruling that allowed Martin to become the first golfer to use a cart in PGA Tour events. The court rejected the tour's argument that requiring competitors to walk was an essential part of professional golf.

"The central competition in shot-making would be unaffected by Martin's accommodation," said Judge William Canby in the 3-0 ruling.

"All that the cart does is permit Martin access to a type of competition in which he otherwise could not engage because of his disability. That is precisely the purpose of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)."

He also cited a federal magistrate's findings that Martin has to walk to about 25 percent of each course, which is not accessible by cart, and that he suffers more fatigue during a cart-assisted round than his competitors endure while walking.

Roy L. Reardon, a lawyer for Martin, called the ruling "a great result for the millions of other disabled in the United States who are simply looking, through the Americans with Disabilities Act, for an opportunity to just participate."

The PGA Tour said it was studying the ruling, and declined further comment.

Martin has a circulatory disorder in his right leg that makes it painful for him to walk long distances. He sued in 1997 after the PGA Tour refused to let him use a cart in the final stage of its tour qualifying school.

U.S. Magistrate Thomas Coffin issued an injunction under the ADA, which prohibits discrimination against the disabled in jobs and public accommodations. Martin first used a cart on the PGA Tour's satellite tour, the Nike Tour (since renamed the Tour) in 1998, qualified for the regular tour this year and made his debut as member in the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in January.

The appeals court ruled that golf tournaments were covered by the ADA and that Martin's cart was a reasonable accommodation that would not change the "fundamental nature" of a tournament. Accommodations that would change the fundamental nature of goods or services are not required by the ADA.

Canby noted that the general rules of golf do not require players to walk, and that the PGA Tour allows players to use carts in its Senior PGA Tour and the early stages of its qualifying school.

He said there was ample evidence to support Coffin's finding that fatigue -- the reason for the PGA Tour's ban on carts during tournaments -- was not a significant factor in golf, compared to factors like stress and motivation.

Because such questions are "intensively fact-based," Canby said, today's ruling is not a precedent for allowing a disabled golfer to play a shorter course than PGA Tour competitors, or giving a disabled runner or swimmer a head start.

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