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Golf News: - Posted 18th March 1998

Royal & Ancient ponders buggy dilemma

By Mark Garrod, PA Sport Golf Correspondent

The Royal and Ancient Club are taking legal advice on whether disabled golfer Casey Martin should be allowed to use a buggy in this July's Open championship at Royal Birkdale.

Martin has become something of a celebrity figure in the United States after winning a court battle with the PGA Tour, although they are appealing against the decision.

He suffers from a rare circulatory disorder that makes it dangerous for him to walk and his doctors have said too much stress on his withered right leg could cause it to break and may force amputation.

The Open conditions of entry contains a clause which states: "Players shall walk at all times during a stipulated round unless permitted to ride by the Championship Committee."

Royal and Ancient secretary Michael Bonallack said: "If and when he enters, it will be up to the committee to decide whether they will invoke that clause.

"The matter has been discussed and the general policy is that players must walk but we are taking advice on the matter.

"The words about being permitted to ride are there to cover cases of when a player loses a ball and is given a ride back to the tee.

"Everybody has a great deal of sympathy for him but one of the problems is where do you stop?

"If you allow one, you could have a lot of players producing doctor's certificates.

"In any case, it is logistically almost impossible to get a buggy round this course."

Martin currently plays on the Nike mini-tour in America and if he enters the Open he would have to go through the 36-hole final qualifying competition at one of four courses near Birkdale.

Following his court victory, the United States Golf Association have given him permission to use a cart in the qualifying for June's US Open.

The USGA also announced this week that they have awarded Jack Nicklaus a three-year exemption into the US Open, thus giving him the opportunity to extend a run in the Majors which goes back nearly 40 years.

It must increase the chances of him playing at Birkdale, though Bonallack jokingly added the condition: "That is if his hips stand up to it - I hope he does not ask for a buggy."

Bonallack predicts that scoring in this year's championship will be a stroke or even two higher per round than in 1991 - the last time Birkdale staged the event - after reconstruction work on the greens.

"The greens are going to putt considerably harder," he said. "They have been on the flat side in the past but now they are beautifully contoured and the shaping brings the bunkers more into play.

"It's the players who hit the ball straight and putt well who do well round here. Ian Baker-Finch certainly did that in 1991."

The Australian is almost certainly a non-starter this time, however, after taking 91 in the opening round last year and continuing to struggle horribly with his game.