Golfers Requiring Wheelchairs

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Definition of “Stance”

See same entry under Golfers Requiring Canes and Crutches.

Rule 1-2 (Exerting Influence on Movement of Ball or Altering Physical Conditions), Rule 13-1 (Ball Played as It Lies) and Rule 18-2 (Ball at Rest Moved by Player)

Prior to making a stroke, golfers who play from a wheelchair have traditionally moved the ball a short distance to facilitate positioning it in their stance before address, a maneuver often referred to as “bumping” the ball. This practice is no longer considered necessary and is not an acceptable modification of the Rules of Golf.

Rule 6-4 (Caddie)

See same entry under Golfers Requiring Canes and Crutches for considerations regarding this Rule.

In addition, it would be permissible for a wheelchair golfer to employ both a caddie and an aide to assist him, provided that the aide does not carry or handle the player’s clubs (see Rule 8-1 below). Depending on his responsibilities, the status of the aide would need to be clarified (see discussion of “Coach” under Blind Golfers; see also discussion of “Supervisor” under Golfers with Intellectual Disabilities).

Rule 8-1 (Advice)

If a wheelchair golfer employs both a caddie and an aide (see Rule 6-4 above), the aide would be prohibited from giving advice to the player.

Rule 13-2 (Improving Lie, Area of Intended Stance or Swing, or Line of Play)

See same entry under Golfers Requiring Canes and Crutches.

Rule 13-3 (Building Stance)

See same entry under Golfers Requiring Canes and Crutches.

Rule 14-1b (Anchoring the Club)

Regarding the application of Rule 14-1b, where a Committee has determined that a golfer who uses an assistive device is unable to hold and swing his clubs without anchoring because of his use of the assistive device, the golfer is permitted to make a stroke while anchoring the club.

Rule 14-2a (Assistance)

See same entry under Golfers Requiring Canes and Crutches.

Rule 14-3 (Artificial Devices, Unusual Equipment and Abnormal Use of Equipment)

See same entry under Golfers Requiring Canes and Crutches.

Rule 16-1e (Standing Astride or on Line of Putt)

See same entry under Golfers Requiring Canes and Crutches.

Rule 20-1 (Lifting and Marking)

Rule 20-1 states in part:

If a ball or ball-marker is accidentally moved in the process of lifting the ball under a Rule or marking its position, the ball or the ball-marker must be replaced. There is no penalty, provided the movement of the ball or ball-marker is directly attributable to the specific act of marking the position of or lifting the ball. Otherwise, the player incurs a penalty of one stroke under this Rule or Rule 18-2.

This Rule requires no modification for use by golfers with disabilities. However, because physical limitations and assistive devices, especially chairs, may restrict access to the ball, the Rule should be interpreted loosely enough to give the golfer with a disability the benefit of the doubt in cases where “directly attributable” becomes an issue.

Rule 20-2a (Dropping and Re-Dropping; By Whom and How)

Rather than have a golfer who uses a wheelchair hold the ball above his head and drop it or throw the ball upwards to what shoulder height would be if he were to stand erect, and in an effort to provide some uniformity, the following modification to Rule 20-2a is recommended:

20-2. Dropping and Re-Dropping

a. By Whom and How

A ball to be dropped under the Rules must be dropped by the player himself. He must either stand or sit erect, hold the ball at shoulder height and arm’s length and drop it. If a ball is dropped by any other person or in any other manner and the error is not corrected as provided in Rule 20-6, the player incurs a penalty of one stroke.

Rule 20-3 (Placing and Replacing)

While a player may give another person the authority to retrieve or lift his ball, only the player or his partner may place a ball under the Rules. Because of physical limitations, it may be difficult or impossible for the golfer playing from a wheelchair to place a ball as provided in Rule 20-3a. The following modification to Rule 20-3a is recommended:

20-3. Placing and Replacing

a. By Whom and Where

A ball to be placed under the Rules must be placed by the player, his partner or another person authorized by the player.

Replacing the ball should rarely pose any difficulty, as Rule 20-3 allows for replacement not only by the player or his partner but also by the person who lifted it.

Rule 22 (Ball Assisting or Interfering with Play)

Golfers with disabilities that use assistive devices may be inclined not to lift their balls on the putting green in an effort to reduce the potential for damage to the putting green surface. This is not the problem it may seem to be, as the player may authorize another person to mark the position of and lift his ball.

Rule 24-2 (Immovable Obstructions) and Rule 25-1 (Abnormal Ground Conditions)

See same entry under Golfers Requiring Canes and Crutches.

Rule 26 Water Hazards (including Lateral Water Hazards)

Wheelchair golfers encounter problems in maneuvering themselves into position to make a stroke. This problem is particularly acute in taking relief from a lateral water hazard under Rule 26-1c which entitles a player to drop within two club-lengths of and not nearer the hole than the point where the ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard. After, having dropped a ball, a wheelchair golfer may not be able to play it because the slope of the water hazard banking or the proximity of the water hazard itself makes it impossible to position his wheelchair in order to make a stroke. The following modification to the language of Rule 26-1c is recommended:

c. As additional options available only if the ball last crossed the margin of a lateral water hazard, drop a ball outside the water hazard within four club-lengths of and not nearer the hole than (i) the point where the ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard or (ii) a point on the opposite margin of the water hazard equidistant from the hole.

Rule 28 (Ball Unplayable)

While it is accepted that one able-bodied golfer may attempt and successfully execute a stroke with a ball that another able-bodied golfer may have deemed unplayable, the problems faced by wheelchair golfers are much more marked.  Wheelchair golfers encounter specific problems in playing golf and maneuvering themselves into position to make a stroke, often due to the uneven terrain present on most golf courses.

For example, a ball just off the fairway in trees or a ball on a moderate slope may be unplayable due to the difficulty of getting there or the risk of the wheelchair toppling over. Moreover, a ball in a bunker may be difficult, if not impossible, to play due to the bunker design. For example, a steep face or edge may prevent a wheelchair golfer entering or exiting the bunker, and soft and deep sand may hinder movement such that the wheelchair golfer cannot get to his ball or adjust his position to comfortably take his stance.

Rule 28c allows a player to drop a ball within two club-lengths of the spot where the ball lay, but, for the reasons outlined above, such relief may not be sufficient. Furthermore, with regard to a ball in a bunker, although previously the modifications allowed a player to drop a ball outside the bunker under Rule 28 with an additional penalty of one stroke – making two penalty strokes in total – this option was viewed as unduly harsh on the wheelchair golfer whose ball was in a very playable position, but he was prevented from getting to it because of the bunker’s design.

Consequently, the following modification to the language of Rule 28 is recommended:

Rule 28. Ball Unplayable

If a golfer with a disability deems his ball to be unplayable, he must under penalty of one stroke:

a.   Play a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was played (see Rule 20-5); or

b.   Drop a ball behind the point where the ball lay, keeping that point directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind that point the ball may be dropped. If the unplayable ball is in a bunker, a ball may be dropped outside the bunker when proceeding under this Clause; or

c.   Drop a ball within four club-lengths of the spot where the ball lay, but not nearer the hole. If the unplayable ball is in a bunker, a ball must be dropped in the bunker when proceeding under this Clause.

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