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

The regulations described above are intended to provide a functionally equivalent golfing experience to golfers with disabilities. Golf course owners and operators should conduct an accessibility study of their courses to determine whether they meet the ADA standards and develop a plan for any portion of their courses that do not comply with federal law.

Golf course owners and operators should also make sure to check applicable laws and regulations in the states in which they operate, as state law may provide greater accessibility requirements.

For example, in November 2014, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida denied a golf club owner’s motion to dismiss a complaint filed by a patron of the Lake Henry Golf Club who was only capable of walking very short distances, finding that the plaintiff had properly pled a claim under Title III of the ADA.

Specifically, Albert Ferguson, who suffers from several health conditions that limit his mobility, claimed that he enjoys playing golf, and that given his limited walking range, he is only able to play by driving his golf cart directly to tee boxes, putting greens, and other areas of the course so that he can park his cart a short distance from his ball. Ferguson further claimed that while the Lake Henry Golf Club permits the use of golf carts, it prohibits carts from being parked on tee boxes, stopping on the fairway, or parking within thirty feet of the putting green. According to Ferguson, these restrictions discriminate against individuals with mobility impairments even though reasonable accommodations exist, are available on the market or within the course itself, and are necessary to ensure that individuals with disabilities are not excluded, denied services, or otherwise treated differently.

In response to these allegations, the golf club owner argued that Ferguson failed to allege what barriers he encountered on the property, whether he was able to overcome them, or how they impeded his use and enjoyment of the facility, as required to sufficiently allege a cause of action for liability under Title III of the ADA. The defendant further asserted that the complaint is barren of facts and states nothing more than recitation of various ADA guidelines with general conclusory statements unconnected to any specific allegations related to actual barriers.

Despite the defendant’s assertions, the court found that Ferguson sufficiently plead the elements of a case; namely that he is disabled, that the owner/operator of Lake Henry Golf Club denied him full and equal enjoyment of the golf course, and that the removal of the barriers at the property is readily achievable. Further, the court held that Ferguson provided “fair notice” of his charges and the grounds for the complaint by alleging that various barriers on the course limit his ability to enjoy the premises fully and equally, and prevent him from fully accessing the property.

Notably, the case did not discuss the ADA Standards or the requirements set forth in the 2010 ADA Standards, including those that specifically apply to all public, municipal, and private golf courses open to play by the general public. Rather, the Court decided that a discussion and/or analysis of these requirements was not warranted at this stage of the case.

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