Are Your Golf Courses Accessible to Guests with Disabilities: How Does the ADA Apply to Your Club?

Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) prohibits discrimination against individuals on the basis of disability with regard to their participation and “equal enjoyment” in places open to the public, or “places of public accommodation.”  Under this law, places of public accommodation, such as stores, restaurants, hotels and gyms, are required to make goods and services available to and usable by individuals with disabilities on an equal basis with members of the general public.

The U.S. Department of Justice has issued regulations to address specific requirements of the ADA. These requirements include detailed architectural requirements known as the ADA Standards for Accessible Design (“ADA Standards”), which are based on federal ADA Accessibility Guidelines (“ADAAG”).

The ADAAG address golf courses and other recreational facilities. These guidelines were developed to make certain activities such as golf are accessible to as many golfers as possible and not detract from the fundamental challenge and nature of the game. In short, the law requires golf courses to meet specific requirements so long as they are “readily achievable.”  If the requirements are not “readily achievable” a safe harbor exists for non- compliance. To be exempted under this readily achievable standard, a golf course would need to show that the cost of making its course accessible is beyond its financial means.

Golf Course Accessibility Requirements

  • Accessible Routes on the Golf Course: Golf courses must provide continuous, unobstructed pathways (of at least 48″ in width) to connect all areas within the boundaries of the golf course. This includes the bag drop area, parking lot, clubhouse and pro shop, practice facilities, actual golf course (tees, fairways, greens, and routes between holes), course toilet facilities, amenities (snack bar, halfway house), and weather shelters.
  • Alternative Golf Cart Passage: The ADAAG recognizes that it may be impractical to provide an accessible route (48″ wide path) through all areas of the golf course due to the unpredictable nature of golf ball flight and the fact that altering slopes or the architecture of the course could diminish the challenge of the In such instances, an alternative golf cart passage can be substituted for an accessible route. This is simply an area that can be used by golf carts to gain access to certain areas and does not need to have a prepared surface. As an example, alternative golf cart passages would be a recommended route over a turf area to access greens, fairways, and teeing grounds.
  • Practice Facilities: A golf course’s driving ranges and practice facilities must have an accessible route or golf cart passage (48″ wide) that is connected to accessible teeing At least one teeing station or a minimum of 5% of the total number of stations, whichever is greater, must be accessible and provide space for a golf cart to enter and exit.
  • Teeing Grounds: A golf course must provide access from the cart path to at least one teeing ground on each If one or two teeing grounds are provided for each hole, only the forward teeing ground must be accessible. For holes with three or more teeing grounds, two of the teeing grounds must be accessible. According to the Guidelines, existing courses are not required to provide access to the forward teeing ground if terrain makes compliance infeasible.
  • Course Barriers: Curbs and other man-made barriers are often installed along paths to restrict golf carts from entering at specific Where such barriers exist, openings at least 60″ wide must be provided at intervals not to exceed 75 yards.
  • Putting Greens: Golf courses are required to design and construct putting greens so that a golf cart can enter and exit the green.
  • Weather Shelters: Where provided, golf courses are required to design and construct weather shelters so that a golf cart can enter and exit
  • Bunkers: Bunkers have been a particularly difficult issue to tackle because modifying these hazards to make them ADA accessible would change the challenge and character of the golf For this reason, there have been no proposed guidelines or design requirements applied to bunkers. From a playability standpoint, the USGA published A Modification of The Rules of Golf for Golfers with Disabilities that outlines procedures for retrieving a ball from a bunker, and dropping and playing the next shot from outside the bunker (see Rule 28 – Ball Unplayable). With good design, it is possible to construct bunkers with an accessible route; however, such design guidelines are not mandated at this time.
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