WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court will decide whether disabled golfer Casey Martin has a legal right to ride in a golf cart between shots at PGA Tour events.
The court said Tuesday it will hear the tour's argument that a federal anti-bias law does not apply to Martin's case. It will hear arguments in the case most likely in January, with a decision due by the end of June.
Casey Martin's fate will rest in the hands of the highest court in the land.
A federal appeals court ruled last spring that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires the PGA Tour to waive its requirement that players walk the golf course during tournaments.
Martin has a circulatory disorder in his right leg that makes it painful for him to walk long distances. The disorder, a congenital vascular condition, is called Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber Syndrome.
"The Tour reiterates that this issue has been from the start about the Tour's ability to set and implement the rules of its competitions," the PGA Tour said in a statement Tuesday. "Those rules include walking as an integral part of elite championship golf played at the highest level."
Martin said he wasn't surprised by the Supreme Court's decision.
"It doesn't come as a big shock, but it's obviously disappointing," Martin said from the Buick Challenge in Pine Mountain, Ga. "But, I'd like it to come to an end. I don't think it changes anything. I go play golf, and I separate that from what's going on legally."
Martin sued the PGA Tour in 1997, citing a provision of the ADA that bans discrimination on the basis of disability "in the full enjoyment of ... facilities ... of any place of public accommodation." The law's definition of public accommodation includes recreational places such as golf courses.
A federal judge ruled for Martin, saying that allowing him to use a golf cart would not "fundamentally alter" the nature of PGA Tour events.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed last March. "Providing Martin with a golf cart would not give him an unfair advantage over his competitors," said the court, based in San Francisco.
The next day, a Chicago-based federal appeals court ruled the other way in a similar case. Ford Olinger, an Indiana golfer, sued the United States Golf Association for the right to ride a cart in U.S. Senior Open qualifying, but the appeals court decided that letting him use a cart would change the nature of competition.
In the appeal acted on Monday, the PGA Tour's lawyers said the 9th Circuit court's decision "bars the tour from requiring that all competitors at its events play by the same rules."
"So far as we are aware, no court has ever before held that a professional sport must waive a legitimate competitive rule to enable a would-be participant, disabled or not, to more successfully compete," the tour's lawyers said.
The tour's lawyers also said the ruling would open the door to workplace discrimination lawsuits by independent contractors and other non-employees.
Martin's lawyers said golf "is not a race against the clock or against human endurance" and that allowing him to use a cart would not affect the competition. A ruling for the PGA Tour would allow
professional sports to exempt themselves from the ADA, his lawyers added.
Martin has made the cut in only 12 of his 23 events on the PGA Tour this year and is danger of losing his card for next year. He is 177th on the money list with $123,624. With only eight tournaments left, he will need about $400,000 to avoid going to Qualifying School.
His best finish is a tie for 17th in the Tucson Open in February, the same week the top 65 players in the World Rankings were at the Match Play Championship.