What is golf?

The PGA says it's hitting the ball in the hole, plus walking; disabled golfer Casey Martin says the walking doesn't matter. The Supreme Court will be asked to decide.

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The most famous words ever possibly uttered about golf were uttered, or not, by Mark Twain, who may or may not have called it “a good walk spoiled.” You never know with those famous Mark Twain quotes whether he actually said the thing he was supposed to have said.

The whole thing is going to the Supreme Court.

That is, whether walking is an integral part of golf. The PGA Tour said it would file a motion with the Supreme Court Wednesday, the last day it could do so, asking for a review of the lower-court decision that allows Casey Martin to ride in a golf cart in PGA tournaments.

Martin has a rare circulatory disease in his right leg that makes walking difficult. His successful 1998 lawsuit against the PGA, citing workplace access provisions in the Americans With Disabilities Act, allowed him to become the first player to ride a cart in the U.S. Open and on the PGA Tour. The PGA maintains that walking the course is part of the athletic competition of a golf tournament, and riding creates an unfair advantage because those who walk become more fatigued than those who ride.

“This case is not about Casey Martin, but rather the PGA Tour’s ability to set and implement the rules of its competition,” said a statement by the tour, which is always careful not to sound anti-disabled guy when it’s trying to bounce Martin. The decision favoring Martin was upheld by an appeals court in March.

Martin earned his way onto the PGA Tour in October by finishing in the top 15 in the Nike Tour. But if riding gives Martin an unfair advantage, he hasn’t capitalized on it at the top level: He has made the cut only eight times in 15 tournaments, and hasn’t finished better than a 17th-place tie. He’s 161st on the money list, and he’ll lose his tour card if he doesn’t move up to the top 125.

Two similar cases have raised the same issues without getting the same notoriety as Martin’s case has received. An Indiana club pro named Ford Olinger, who has a degenerative hip disease, sued the U.S. Golf Association in 1999 for the right to use a cart in U.S. Open qualifying. He lost. The judge ruled that Olinger, unlike Martin, was not being denied access to his workplace. Olinger used a walker in the qualifying round, but failed to advance. The decision in Olinger’s case was also upheld by an appeals court in March, and the PGA Tour says it expects him to ask the Supreme Court for a review as well.



And in Austin, Texas, last month, a federal judge ordered the USGA to allow JaRo Jones, a club pro with post-polio syndrome and neuromuscular atrophy, to use a cart in qualifying for the U.S. Senior Open. The Senior Tour allows its members to use carts.

Those cheering Martin on in his twin struggles to overcome his own disability and the PGA’s attempts to keep him off the tour can take comfort in another thing Twain may or may not have said: “By trying, we can easily learn to endure adversity. Another man’s, I mean.”

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