Golf is a lifelong sport played by people of all ages for fun, plus it also promotes improved stamina, flexibility, enhanced circulation, and social activity. Golfers are able to enjoy the surroundings in a relaxed atmosphere with family, friends and business acquaintances. Thanks to guidance from federal agencies and follow-up commentary from the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, many golf courses have started adding accessible golf carts to their rental cart fleets to comply with Title II (government-owned or operated facilities) and/or Title III (public facilities) of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Some golf courses are accessible to all golfers, including those who must play from a sitting or standing position while in the accessible cart. The American Lake Veterans Golf Course in Lakewood, Washington — affiliated with the rehabilitation program at the local Veterans Administration hospital — has a number of accessible carts on hand, mostly ParaGolfer and SoloRider models. Also, all bunkers and traps have been designed without steep sides so that golf cars with wider tires can drive through them. Wide-tire models can also be driven on the greens.
Another course working to accommodate accessible golf is Haggin Oaks, a popular public golf course located in Sacramento, California. Morton Golf manages the Haggin Oaks golf course along with two other courses in the Sacramento area. The three facilities offer the use of Model Tee, ParaGolfer and SoloRider accessible rental carts and special group lessons for everyone who wants to learn the game, no matter what their disability.
The most basic accessible golf carts are ramp-equipped models with hand controls that will simply accommodate a wheelchair to travel between shots. It is necessary to unload from the cart in order to hit the ball. Runabout carts, manufactured by PHED Mobility, are equipped with hand controls and can haul two wheelchairs. More complex accessible carts are designed to carry a single rider and allow golfers who cannot stand to remain seated while hitting a variety of shots from tee to green. The Eagle 724 Single Rider golf cart provides hand controls and a swivel seat to accommodate golfers with disabilities. Single rider carts can drive through bunkers or sand traps and across tee boxes and putting greens at most golf courses. Less weight combined with wider tires assure that they will do no damage.
Another early model accessible cart was the Model Tee Widetrack Freedom Rider. While no longer being manufactured, they are still available to rent at many courses, and used Model Tees are for sale on the secondary market. The Model Tee carts feature seats that elevate and swivel, a footrest, and wider tires for driving through sand traps and across greens. Like all carts mentioned in this column, they also have hand controls.
A cart with a similar design is the Golf Xpress, which offers a seat that swivels and tilts forward so that the seated golfer can swing a golf club. Tamara Lawter, a T5-6 para from Kearney, Nebraska, played golf 22 years ago when she was injured while serving in the military, and she loved the game. She returned to playing golf four years later when she obtained a Golf Xpress cart.
In 2015 Lawter switched to a ParaGolfer through the joint support of The Independence Foundation and the Stand Up And Play Foundation. Both foundations were established to provide veterans an opportunity to participate in recreation. Providing accessible golf carts for tournaments or outings has been a big part of their mission.
Using the ParaGolfer — also called a Paramobile — Lawter found that she could use both hands to swing a club for the first time since her SCI. Unlike some types of accessible carts where golfers usually swing a golf club with one hand while stabilizing themselves with the other, the ParaGolfer has a set of straps and a chest plate to secure golfers while raising them to a standing position so they can swing two-handed. “I think there are advantages to standing up,” Lawter says. “It provides more control over the club and allows me to hit the ball farther. It also helps improve balance and circulation, and I feel like everyone else on the course who is standing up.”
Paramobile/ParaGolfer: Power Chair/Golf Cart
Unlike most of the accessible products mentioned in this column, the ParaGolfer was initially developed to meet power wheelchair standards (Paramobile). The person behind the ParaGolfer, Anthony Netto, an incomplete para from Vista, California, was a golf coach before a 1994 auto accident left him paralyzed. Having an understanding of funding mechanisms that allow people to obtain wheelchairs, Netto helped design the Paramobile to be eligible for the same payments.
Netto worked with Ottobock, a European company that makes medical devices, and the Swiss design and engineering company ESORO to create a device that complies with the same standards as a power wheelchair and standing frame. So as not to cause problems while being used on tee boxes and greens, the Paramobile was equipped with turf tires that also work well on snow and sandy surfaces. The cart meets FDA requirements and other international standards organizations that certify wheelchairs. Even with certifications, Netto was unsuccessful in finding a mainstream wheelchair company to manufacture and sell the Paramobile until he found Ottobock.
Development of a smaller model of Paramobile is underway so that it can be used in more indoor environments. The standing-frame capabilities of the machine make it useful for completing workouts on standard exercise machines, and the smaller footprint ensures that it will be welcomed in gyms as well as on golf courses.
Because the ParaGolfer has proved to be a popular choice for golfers with disabilities, Netto founded the Stand Up And Play Foundation in order to raise awareness and help interested golfers get one. The foundation sponsors several golf-related events around the country each year with a focus on letting people try out the equipment.
During 2015 the foundation gave away 34 ParaGolfers, mainly to military veterans with disabilities. Netto showcases the advantages of the ParaGolfer regularly. At a World Championship Long Drive Competition in Mesquite, Nevada, he hit a 305-yard drive, which is now the world record for a paralyzed golfer.
Jerry Donovan, a T6 para from Norwood, Massachusetts, was first introduced to the ParaGolfer at an adaptive sports clinic held at Spaulding Rehab Hospital in 2001. Those clinics are co-sponsored by the Salute Military Golf Association of Boston, a group that assists wounded veterans and their families through rehabilitative golf experiences. Not long after attending the clinic, Donovan obtained a ParaGolfer with the assistance of Legacy Financial and has been using it to play golf ever since.
Donovan points out that he has never tipped over in five years and has done no damage to greens. He continues working to get area courses to purchase additional accessible carts. “My goal is to help other people with disabilities have more fun. Standing is great for the body,” he says. “It helps with circulation, osteoporosis, bowel, bladder and, perhaps most importantly, morale.”
Andrew Hippert, Tampa, Florida, quad and founder of Living Spinal, does not own an accessible cart for his personal use, but he attended a sports clinic put on by the Stand Up And Play Foundation that included a golf tournament and two ParaGolfers available for use. Since he had not played much prior to that time, he admits that simply putting the ball from a standing position was the most fun.
Jim Siegfried, a T5 para from Orange, California, was injured in 1977. Until three years ago he had not been able to try golfing. At that time, with the support of the Stand Up and Play Foundation and instruction from Netto, he tried hitting a golf ball from a ParaGolfer for the first time. His experience was similar to that of many other first-timers. “I couldn’t even hit the ball at first,” he says. “But I would recommend to others that they try it and not get discouraged.” Siegfried has begun playing with family and friends on a regular basis and has even participated in a long drive championship, where he drove a ball 185 yards one-handed (his mid-thoracic level of injury makes it difficult to twist his upper body far enough to allow him to hold a golf club with two hands while driving).
The SoloRider: A Popular Choice for Golf Courses
Providing an opportunity for people with disabilities to try golf for the first time is an important role now being played by the largest independent living center in Arizona. Ability360, in Tempe, has a state of the art sports and fitness center and recently received grant funding to purchase four accessible golf carts plus a pickup truck and trailer to haul them. According to Phil Pangrazio, president and CEO of Ability360, the four carts — two ParaGolfers and two SoloRiders — will be taken to golf tournaments and disability-related events throughout the region as part of the center’s mobile fitness program.
One Ability360 Sports and Fitness Center staff member is especially looking forward to those events. Tim Surry, a T10 para from a 1988 car accident when he was a senior in high school, had played golf and knew he wanted to do it again. He began by hitting golf balls while seated in his manual wheelchair and has been able to enjoy the game even more now that he has access to accessible golf carts.
Billy Fryar, a T10 para from Conway, Arkansas, owns a SoloRider cart. He uses it regularly at a public course in Little Rock and plays several times a year at other nearby courses. “One course superintendent had some apprehension about me driving on greens,” he says, “but once I showed up and demonstrated the cart’s capabilities on the practice putting green, it was okay. I drove all the way across it and left no tracks.” Fryar recommends the use of the SoloRider to everyone he meets who might benefit from it. For anyone who might think that playing from an accessible cart while swinging with one hand is less effective, Fryar points out that he has made two holes-in-one so far. The last one was witnessed by an entire troop of Boy Scouts who were doing a project adjacent to the course.
Madeline Kennedy of Naples, Florida, diagnosed with ALS in 2012, lost her ability to stand and walk for long distances, which robbed her of the ability to play golf. Then in 2014 she was loaned an accessible cart by SoloRider. “That cart allowed me to have a different view of the world. I could watch the birds and alligators on the course while mingling with my family and friends,” Kennedy says. “It lit up my world again, providing huge emotional benefits even though I can no longer swing a golf club.”
Kennedy had an exciting experience with her SoloRider last year at a golf tournament fundraiser for ALS research. During a live interview with the local television news station, she sank a 78-foot putt while seated on her SoloRider. The TV news clip went viral and was quickly picked up by international network news channels and the Golf Channel. It has been televised around the world.
SoloRider carts are a popular choice for golf courses that are becoming accessible in order to comply with the ADA. The single rider accessible carts were first manufactured in 2000 as part of a joint project with Regal Research, a Texas company engaged in military work, and Club Car, a major manufacturer of standard golf carts. In 2004 the partnership was dissolved and Regal Research took over the business. The accessible golf carts are a small part of the company’s business — about 80 to 100 SoloRiders are sold each year. Eric Hatch, SoloRider’s production manager, believes there is a much bigger potential market available. There are about 16,000 golf courses in the United States and only a small percentage of them have stepped up to purchase accessible golf carts.
A grassroots effort by potential golfers with disabilities might improve the situation. If you have not yet called your local golf courses to see if accessible rental carts are available, now would be a good time to do it. The next thing you know you will be scheduling a golf outing with friends and enjoying the outdoors.
• Eagle Golf 724 Single Rider (and other adapted golf carts), www.abledata.com/indexing-terms/adapted-golf-cart-0
• ESORO, 41-44-782-04-40; www.esoro.ch/english/
• Golf Xpress, 989/846-6255; www.golfxpress.com/golf.htm
• Living Spinal, 855/287-4968 or 619/810-0010; www.livingspinal.com
• Madeline Kennedy website, conquerals.com
• Mobility Golf, 650/325-8021; mobilitygolf.com
• Model Tee Golf Carts, www.youtube.com/watch?v=1J8h1LyJ6p8
• National Alliance for Accessible Golf, 904/940-4204; www.accessgolf.org
• PHED Mobility, 574/536-1477; wheelchairgolfcarts.com/phed-golf-cart-models/runabout-golf-carts/
• SoloRider, 800/898-3353 or 972/422-5324; www.solorider.com
• Stand Up And Play Foundation, Paramobile, 941/320-9688, www.standupandplayfoundation.org/find-a-paramobile/
• Tee It Up For the Troops, 952/646-2490; www.teeitupforthetroops.org/
• The Independence Foundation, 716/685-3976; theindependencefoundation.org
• US Disabled Golf Association, 910/214-5983; www.usdga.net