The inaugural U.S. Adaptive Open Championship, being conducted on Course No. 6 at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club from July 18-20, is a historic opportunity to showcase the incredible talent, skill and determination of adaptive golfers. It’s also a great chance to highlight various design, maintenance and setup considerations that can make golf courses more accessible.
Adaptive golfers can face many challenges when it comes to getting around golf courses and enjoying the game – but they are not alone in that. Beginning golfers, senior golfers and many others routinely encounter obstacles on golf courses that make the game less fun, less safe, or that prevent them from playing golf at all. The good news is that awareness of these issues is growing and there are design and maintenance solutions that can help more people enjoy our great game. Let’s take a look at some ways to improve accessibility in key areas of a golf course.
Every golf hole begins at the tee, so accessible teeing grounds are critical. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements state that the forward tee on each hole should be accessible by a golf cart unless the terrain makes compliance infeasible. If a hole has three or more teeing grounds, two of them must be readily accessible by a golf cart.
For drainage, visibility and presentation purposes, it is common for teeing grounds to be elevated above the surrounding terrain. However, minimizing the increase in elevation and keeping surrounding slopes gentle improves access for players who rely on mobility aids or anyone who has challenges walking over uneven ground. It also makes maintenance easier and helps teeing areas blend more naturally into their surroundings.
Accessible teeing grounds should be wide enough to easily accommodate a golf cart, with additional room for players who swing from a seated position to take their stance, address their ball and make a swing. Having at least this amount of width also helps the superintendent to spread wear around the tee, which is another example of how accessibility and maintainability often go hand in hand.
One reason why Pinehurst No. 6 was selected for the first and second playings of the U.S. Adaptive Open in 2022 and 2023 is because the course exceeds the teeing access standards of the ADA. This is important because four different tees on each hole will be used to accommodate the diverse field.
“We have both men and women competing, we have players with varying Handicap Indexes, and we have eight different impairment categories – all of which translates to a wide range of hitting distances,” explained Stephanie Parel, championship director of the U.S. Adaptive Open. “At Course No. 6, nearly all the tees are readily accessible, which gives us the flexibility to create an equitable challenge for the Adaptive Open. It’s also a great model for courses looking to enhance accessibility in general.”
The Green Complex
How green complexes are designed and maintained is an important part of accessibility. Offering plenty of room around the greens and multiple access points that avoid obstacles such as bunkers or steep slopes is an essential part of making golf fun and safe for people who have mobility issues.
Open approaches that allow players to bounce shots onto greens help with playability since some adaptive golfers have slower swing speeds or lower ball flights – even if they are highly skilled players. Open approaches also make golf courses more playable and enjoyable for many golfers outside the adaptive community – including beginners, senior players and anyone with a slower swing speed. Every hole at Pinehurst No. 6 offers an opportunity to bounce shots onto the green and there are wide areas of turf in the surrounds that improve access and playability.