By Dave Barton, Executive Director, National Alliance for Accessible Golf
The sun has just risen, the tee sheet is full, the staff is ready, and the course access policy for the day has arrived … “We are Cart Path Only today.”
The words “Cart Path Only” (CPO) can invoke a range of emotions from frustration or anger to fear depending on whether you are the golfer or the staff handling the phones and counter on this morning. Those of you who have worked as a professional or shop assistant at the counter know what I am talking about.
To start, let’s breakdown “the golfers” and what drives some to question the policy on any given day and how your policies and staff training are critical to customer satisfaction. In terms of golfers that consider CPO a “dirty word”, an acronym in this case, there are a few groups to consider:
Golfers who just like to ride in a cart, rarely if ever walk, but have no disabilities that would prevent them from enjoying the round of golf with a few extra steps between the path and their ball,
Golfers who require access to the fairways, or closer to tees and greens because of a disability, or might just be of an age without a disability where the occasional courtesy of better access gives them a few more swings and rounds on the course, and
Seated golfers who require adaptive golf cars on all areas of the course including tees and greens to access and play the game as would any golfer.
So, how do you create and communicate policies to ensure these groups, all with different reasons for not subscribing to the CPO Fan Club, better understand why, in some situations, play for them may be more restricted, or even impossible?
How do you work to maintain mutually positive customer service experiences for both the customer and the club in situations where course access will likely keep some golfers from playing that day?
Well, for starters the golf club usually needs to communicate better. But, in fairness, golfers must also work to appreciate the challenges of maintaining a golf course as well as the course requirement to provide a safe environment to play.
We’ll talk about the importance of consistency in the application of policies but first, both the course superintendent and professional staff must understand and be in sync with what the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (the ADA) and subsequent ADA guidance has established as law.
The ADA is a large government document with plenty of language that at times, although black and white, can seem like an overwhelming amount of information. Simply put and distilled down to the most critical element, the ADA “…requires state and local governments, businesses and non-profit organizations to provide goods, services and programs to people with disabilities on an equal basis with the rest of the public.”
Equal basis is the key to ensuring your course policies and the application of them place your golf course in a position that consistently demonstrates you are providing access to your goods and services (the golf course) in an equitable manner to all individuals. If you are being equitable in the application of your policies, then an unreasonable denial of access for any group of golfers is unlikely.
A golf course operator is absolutely permitted to protect the golf course from damage and restrict ALL play to CPO if previous, or current weather conditions are of a nature that golf cars, including adaptive golf cars would cause damage to the course if allowed off the path. Weather may also simply present a safety issue for the golfer when slopes around the golf course necessitate CPO from a personal risk management standpoint until conditions are safer. These would be considered a reasonable application of CPO.
Additionally, if course maintenance, such as chemical applications have occurred and golf car traffic will alter the effectiveness of those applications or present a safety issue of any kind to the golfers, CPO for all golfers would be considered reasonable.
Hopefully, the recurring message you are beginning to see is the importance of providing access off the path to all golfers whenever possible, but ensuring when you cannot, you have justifiable and reasonable reasons not to.
To be clear, there is obviously nothing wrong with being CPO, but a good general rule of thumb under “normal playing conditions” versus the situations outlined above is you should not be denying course access to golfers identified above that require more access (groups 2 and 3). In these cases, you would be providing equitable access to your goods and services for individuals to play the game who would not have it if restricted to the path.
A good standard for normal playing conditions could include criteria that if course maintenance such as mowing tees, fairways, and greens is permitted, access for golfers who have a legitimate requirement for additional levels off the path to play the game is warranted. That said, there are certainly times when the grass just must be cut in less-than-ideal situations that would not be considered “normal conditions”. In these situations, it would still be reasonable for the course to limit non-maintenance related vehicles off the path from a potential damage or safety perspective. The best advice when in these scenarios is do not be afraid to over communicate to your customers what is going on.
The National Alliance for Accessible Golf provides a Golf Course Accessibility Template in our Resources section via our free networking and information forum, the Golf Access and Inclusion Network™ (GAIN). This downloadable word document can be modified to your facilities policies and is a great step towards better communications with your customers. Beyond a solid and publicly available Accessibility Statement on your website, we recommend you consider the following to further develop a welcoming and inclusive environment.
Visit accessiBe and use their AI to convert your existing website quickly and affordably into an accessible website that meets ADA standards and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). We use accessiBe and can stand by its ease and functionality.
Consider some signage in your pro shop that encourages golfers to call ahead if they would like to know the cart path policy that is in place.
Use your email and text lists to share the day’s policy if access may be limited, such as CPO and encourage all your customers to subscribe to your email and text notifications, especially those that may be in front of you and not pleased they drove an hour to play and have good reasons for requiring better access.
Consider green ACCESS FLAGS versus blue handicapped flags. Although the word handicapped is still used, it has become less favorable as a term to people with disabilities. Green says GO and ACCESS sends a message to your customers and community that your golf club is looking for every opportunity possible to get all your customers on the course.
As a PGA Golf Professional and former operator, I can safely say I was not as informed as I could have been on many of the things outlined above when I was working the counter and leading properties. I should have been and that is 100% on me. The ADA was enacted in 1990, not 2023.
Set clear policies and train your staff at all levels. As importantly, make sure your customers know your policies and have a belief that even though your course will have restrictions now and then, these same customers will know that you strive daily to provide equitable access to all.
We invite you to Join Our Community on GAIN and ask any questions you may have about the above and better yet, with your advice and experience, help answer questions like this or other matters related to access and inclusion in the game of golf.
GAIN is a place for all – golfers and those looking to learn, family or friends seeking information, instructional programs hosted by golf and therapeutic facilities, coaches, organizations that now support these efforts and those who may be interested in supporting, and more.
The health and wellness benefits of golf to all who choose to play are indisputable and our mission is to seek ways to increase the participation of people with disabilities in the game of golf.
Advocating for access is job one for the National Alliance. Access leads to inclusion and a better-connected community inside and outside of the club property lines.