August 26, 1998
The Honorable Barbara Boxer
United States Senator
1700 Montgomery Street
San Francisco, California 94111
Dear Senator Boxer:
I am responding to your letter on behalf of your constituent, xxxx xxxxxxxxx. Mr. xxxxxxxxx asked about the application of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) to the operating policies of golf courses. Specifically, Mr. xxxxxxxxx asked if the ADA requires golf course operators to permit golfers who have disabilities to bring golf carts onto the course.
The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in all of the services, programs, and activities of public entities and in the operation of privately owned places of public accommodation, such as golf courses. Covered entities are required to make reasonable modifications in their policies, practices, and procedures in order to ensure that an individual with a disability has an equal opportunity to participate in the program or activity that the covered entity provides. However, a covered entity is not required to provide modifications that result in a fundamental alteration of the program that is offered.
A golf course may be covered under either title II or title III depending on whether it is publicly or privately owned and operated. However, in order to trigger the protection of the ADA in challenging a golf course policy, certain criteria must be met. The first criterion is that the affected golfer must be an "individual with a disability" as that term is defined by the ADA. This means that a person must have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of his or her major life activities.
If a golfer's impairment substantially limits a major life activity, he or she is entitled to the protection of the ADA. An impairment that does not substantially limit a major life activity does not trigger ADA protection. Thus, the determination as to whether a particular golfer is entitled to seek a modification of a golf course rule requires a case-by-case analysis.
After it has been determined that the golfer is an individual with a disability, it is necessary to determine if a requested modification, such as the use of a golf cart in areas other than a designated path, is "reasonable" and whether the modification would fundamentally alter the golf course. These determinations also involve fact-specific, case-by-case inquiries that consider, among other factors, the effectiveness of the modification in light of the nature of the disability in question, the modification's effect on the organization that must implement it or on the golf course.
The ADA requires that golf course operators be prepared to modify or waive general rules in circumstances where the waiver is necessary to permit an individual with a disability to participate in its program and the waiver would not fundamentally alter the program that is provided. In most circumstances, requiring a golf course to allow golfers with disabilities to take golf carts off the designated path would be reasonable and, depending on the type of golf cart being used, would not usually result in a fundamental alteration.
Mr. xxxxxxxxx has also asked if the ADA requires golf course operators to publicize the policy modifications that are provided to golfers with disabilities. The Department believes that it is appropriate for covered entities to establish and publicize a system through which individuals with disabilities may request the reasonable modifications that they need and the types of reasonable modifications that they usually allow.
I hope this information is helpful to you in responding to your constituent.
Bill Lann Lee
Civil Rights Division >