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Americans with Disabilities Act Technical Assistance Letters


November 2, 1998

The Honorable Dianne Feinstein

United States Senate

Washington, D.C. 20510-0504

Dear Senator Feinstein:

This is in response to your inquiry on behalf of your constituent, xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx. In his letter to you, Mr. xxxxxxxx raises issues concerning the applicability of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to athletic competitions.

Mr. xxxxxxxx is concerned by a federal court's decisions rendered earlier this year in the Casey Martin litigation. Please excuse our delay in responding.

For your convenience, I have enclosed a copy of the two opinions issued by the federal district court in that case. See Martin v. PGA Tour, Inc., 984 F.Supp 1320 (D.Or. Jan. 30, 1998), and Martin v. PGA Tour, Inc., 994 F.Supp. 1242 (D.Or. Feb. 19, 1998). You should also be aware that the case is currently under appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Martin v. PGA Tour, Inc., No. 98-35309 (9th Cir. March 20, 1998).

Title III of the ADA provides that "public accommodations" may not discriminate against individuals with disabilities in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations offered by that public accommodation. 42 U.S.C. § 12182(a). The law defines a "public accommodation" as a private entity that owns, operates or leases a place of public accommodation. 42 U.S.C. §§ 12181(7) and 12182(a). Congress established a list of 12 categories of private entities that should be considered public accommodations, including hotels, restaurants, theaters and schools. 42 U.S.C. § 12181(7). Golf courses are specifically listed in the statute as public accommodations. 42 U.S.C. § 12181(7)(L). Therefore, the federal district court ruled that the PGA Tour must comply with the provisions of title III because it is a private entity that owns and operates golf courses.

Title III requires a public accommodation to make reasonable modifications in its policies, practices or procedures if those modifications would not fundamentally alter the nature of the public accommodation's goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations. 42 U.S.C. § 12182(b)(2)(A)(ii). The PGA Tour had difficulty proving that its no-cart rule was fundamental to the game of golf because it allows carts in several of the competitions it sponsors. For example, the Senior PGA Tour, a highly competitive and multi-million dollar series of competitions, allows the use of carts, and the PGA Tour also allows golfers to use carts in the tournaments held to determine which golfers will qualify for the PGA Tour. Since the PGA Tour allows carts in some tournaments but does not allow carts in other tournaments, the federal district court ruled that its own rules and procedures demonstrate that the no-cart rule -- i.e., requiring competitors to walk -- is not "fundamental" to the golf competitions it sponsors.

There should be no concern that these rulings will undermine the integrity of sports competitions. The ADA's requirement of reasonable modifications was not meant to change the essential activities that comprise an athletic competition or to accommodate a lower skill level.

As requested, we are replying in duplicate. I hope this information is helpful to you in responding to your constituent. Please do not hesitate to contact the Department if we can be of assistance in other matters.


Bill Lann Lee

Acting Assistant

Attorney General

Civil Rights Division


Updated August 6, 2015