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SPORTS WEEKEND | GOLF / THOMAS BONK

PGA Tour Should Put Cart Before the Course

January 23, 1998|THOMAS BONK

Let's see, through the years, the PGA Tour has survived the World Tour, the Caucasian-only rule, sad television ratings and a lack of superstars. And now it's going to be brought down by . . . a golf cart?

The way it's looking, chances are better that the Masters will pave the fairways at Augusta National and paint them green than the tour will win its case against golfer Casey Martin in his suit to use a cart.

Martin, 25, is the former Stanford golfer who has a chronic, incurable disease in his right leg that will keep him from playing professionally if he can't use a cart. The PGA Tour allowed Martin to use a cart at qualifying school and again in two Nike Tour events in Florida this month--the first of which he won.

Martin sued the PGA Tour to use a cart, arguing that the tour's rules against using carts on the Nike and PGA tours violates the Americans With Disabilities Act. Commissioner Tim Finchem argues that the key issue is whether a special exemption ought to be granted to Martin and if so, whether it would upset the integrity of the game.

Said Finchem: "My answer [to the special exemption] is no . . . you have an unfair playing field when you have different rules for different players."

However, the PGA Tour permits carts on the Senior PGA Tour . . . and in the first two rounds of qualifying school to speed up play . . . and in some regular tour events when the distance is great between the greens and the next tees.

So get ready. Martin's case is scheduled to go to trial Feb. 2 in Martin's hometown, Eugene, Ore.

The PGA Tour contends the Americans With Disabilities Act wasn't written with sporting events in mind, but the lead sponsor of the bill begs to differ. Sen. Tom Harkin (D--Iowa) said Martin's case is exactly the kind of issue the authors of the bill had in mind. It is designed to open all facets of life to the disabled. It's the law of the land. And that's what the court probably will rule.

What the PGA Tour should do is make up for its public-relations blunder, allow players to ride carts (most won't anyway), embrace Martin and then keep quiet. Besides, Martin's leg is getting worse and his career probably is going to be short.

And don't let the PGA Tour talk about being able to make its own rules. The PGA of America had a Caucasians-only rule for membership until 1961. So the tour needs to get on board with the Americans With Disabilities Act. The PGA Tour is going to find out that it's the law of the land too, even on golf courses.

TRAVELS WITH TIGER

As far as globe-trotting golfers go, Tiger Woods is as advanced as any. Last Saturday, he arrived in Manila to play an exhibition Sunday at Mimosa Golf and Country Club on the former Clark Air Base. Woods played in a group with three Asian pros--Felix Casas of the Philippines, Chang Tse-Peng of Taiwan and Kang Wook-Song of South Korea.

Hughes Norton, Woods' agent, said it was a 5 1/2-hour round in 101-degree heat, but it was worth it to Woods, who is trying to expand awareness of golf in Asia.

"Besides," Norton said, "he may never go to the Philippines again."

Then it was off to Thailand and the Johnnie Walker Classic, which is where Woods is playing instead of this week's Phoenix Open. Even though it's in Phuket, Thailand, it's officially the first event of the European PGA Tour and attracted a field that also includes Ernie Els, Nick Faldo, Jose Maria Olazabal and Ian Woosnam.

There was an interesting opening ceremony during which five Indian elephants were led down the 10th fairway right up to Woods, Els, Faldo, Olazabal and Lee Westwood. It was hoped that Woods would climb aboard one of the elephants for a photo op, but it didn't happen--Woods' insurance carrier wouldn't allow it.

AND MORE TIGER

He hasn't committed yet, but it appears that Woods will play in the Nissan Open, Feb. 26-March 1.

For one thing, Woods will conduct a youth clinic before the tournament, through his foundation. And Woods is going to be honored at the Muscular Dystrophy Assn.'s Magic Johnson Sports Star Dinner and Auction at the Century Plaza Hotel on March 1. Woods, who will be presented the "Sports Star of the Year Award," requested that the event be moved from Tuesday night to the Sunday night after the tournament, which was done.

Norton said Woods isn't sure about playing at Valencia, but that it could happen.

"Obviously, the L.A. Open always occupies a warm place in Tiger's heart," Norton said. "It's the area where he grew up and it's the tournament that gave him his first exemption when he was 15."

WATCH THE BIRDIES

Guess how many birdies were made during last week's Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.

If you said 1,427, you win.

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