Day After Martin Ruling Golf Goes On


At the intersection where law and life collide, there are often bang-ups, but seldom any real casualties. Life goes on. Wounds heal.
And a day after The Ruling, life is going on for Casey Martin and for the PGA Tour. Casey is enduring a seemingly endless round of media interviews, including appearances via satellite on NBCs Today and CNNs Larry King Live. And the PGA Tour is running one of its marquee events, the Memorial Tournament, whose host is the Tours greatest-ever player and whose defending champion is his successor.
As often happens with big controversies, the aftermath may not be as bad as the losers imagine. The class of people who a) can play golf well enough to reach the PGA Tour, and b) have a disability that it would be reasonable to accommodate, is probably very small.
Still, the PGA Tour faces an administrative nightmare. It has spent probably millions defending Martins suit, and for various reasons, some of them good. Those who say in the clear light of hindsight that the Tour should have accommodated Casey from the start miss the significance of the Tours position as a sports league. All the other leagues were watching; the Tour could not afford a less than vigorous defense, or its legitimacy would have been called into question. (Such a criticism would have been misplaced, but in this day and age, an accusation is all thats necessary to convince some people.)
The Supreme Courts 7-2 decision in favor of Martin essentially pushes a judicial function on the Tour. The Courts order does not require it expressly, and as we have said, the need for it may never arise again ' but the Tour will now have to develop some sort of procedure for reviewing and granting accommodations for golfers with disabilities.
Think how big a responsibility that is. There are legal and medical definitions of disability. So now you have to find doctors and lawyers for your review board. Once you determine the existence of a disability (as opposed to, say, a temporary condition arising from a disease, syndrome, or disorder), the Americans With Disabilities Act requires that the accommodation be necessary, reasonable and not fundamentally alter the nature of the game, all within the meaning of the statute and cases decided under it.
Will the game change so that it is unrecognizable? We all know it probably wont, and by all, I mean those who agree with the Supreme Court and those who dont.
If there is a lesson to take away from this, perhaps it is that golf does not live in some sort of vacuum or bubble. These days, nothing does. Every day the law careens toward its intersections with life, at times with seemingly little regard for what is coming down the road. Fairness sometimes requires such indifference. The desire to make ones own rules, however compelling it might be, is no shield against the immutable rules of a civilized society.
Aside from preserving some measure of tradition at hallowed grounds such as St. Andrews, it couldnt hurt golf to shed whatever armor it wears and become more a part of the life of the nation, of the world. If that means a league has to set up a review operation to balance its competitive requirements against the law of the land, so be it.