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Golf briefs

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 18, 2001

Justices debate the nature of sports rules

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court debated the rules of golf and baseball Wednesday as several justices questioned whether disabled golfer Casey Martin has the right to use a cart between shots at PGA Tour events.

"If the people who make the rules for the PGA Tour say, 'We want to make this particular game tougher than regular golf games,' ... why shouldn't we respect it?" Justice David H. Souter asked.

The tour's lawyer asked the justices to rule that the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act does not require the tour to waive its requirement that players walk the course during tournaments. Pro sports have the right to set their rules, H. Bartow Farr III said.

Martin's lawyer, Roy L. Reardon, contended that walking is not fundamental to golf. What counts is making the shots.

"All that proves is that you could play golf under different rules," responded Justice Antonin Scalia. "Is it essential to the game of baseball that the pitcher bat? ... Is it fundamental to baseball that the strike zone be from the chest to the knees?

"I don't understand the whole meaning of fundamentalness to a sport. All sports rules are silly rules, aren't they?"

The justices are expected to rule by July.

At issue is the disabilities act's ban on discrimination against the disabled in public accommodations, including golf courses. The law requires "reasonable modifications" for disabled people unless such changes would fundamentally alter the nature of the place or event.

Martin, 28, has a circulatory disorder in his right leg called Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber Syndrome that makes it painful for him to walk long distances. He sued the tour in 1997, saying the disabilities act gave him a right to use a cart during tour events.

Deferring to the tour's walking rule would give the tour "a free pass out of the Americans With Disabilities Act," Reardon said.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer asked Reardon who should decide whether a sports rule is fundamental to the game. If a rule is not fundamental, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked, "Who is the judge of whether a person is sufficiently disabled to get a dispensation from a non-fundamental requirement?"

Farr argued that tour events should not be considered public accommodations for the players. Instead, they should be considered independently contracted employees, he said.

Several justices questioned that assertion. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said the tour appeared to be a public accommodation because "it's open to golfers from all over the world."

PGA Sony Open

WHEN: Today-Sunday.

WHERE: Honolulu.

COURSE: Waialae Country Club (7,060 yards, par 70).

PURSE: $4-million.

WINNER'S SHARE: $720,000.

TV: 4 p.m. today-Friday, USA; 3:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday, Ch. 10.

NOTES: Tiger Woods is skipping the tournament. He tied for eighth in the Mercedes Championships last weekend. John Huston set a PGA Tour record for relation to par in the 1998 event, finishing at 28-under 260. The Phoenix Open is next week, followed by the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

LPGA Memorial of Naples

WHEN: Today-Sunday.

WHERE: Naples.

COURSE: The Club at the Strand (6,328 yards, par 72).

PURSE: $1-million.

WINNER'S SHARE: $150,000.

TV: 1:30 p.m. today-Sunday, Golf Channel. NOTES: Si Ri Pak won the season-opening LPGA Classic in Orlando last weekend. She was winless in 2000 after two straight four-victory seasons. Australia's Karrie Webb has 22 victories in five seasons on the LPGA Tour. The Office Depot is next week at Doral in Miami.

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