Making Golf Accessible: The USGA’s 2023 rules changes include an important one for disabled players

By: Marin Dremock

According to the Golf Channel, in past editions of the USGA’s Rules of Golf, the “Modified Rules for Players with Disabilities” had always been separate from the official Rules of Golf. These rules were placed under the Local Rules section, leaving it up to the committee of a competition to adopt them if necessary. 

These modifications, which include equipment accommodations such as motor-driven golf carts, longer golf clubs or allowing a caddy to line up a blind golfer, are now fully included in the playing rules under Rule 25, applying automatically to all eligible players.

This addition is a huge step for accessibility and inclusivity in golf. Players of all abilities can fairly compete against other players in the field, regardless of their ability. It also takes the decision out of the individual competition committees’ hands, removing the ambiguity of one disabled golfer being able to play in one tournament but not another.

Even though there is a league called the U.S. Adaptive Golf Alliance (USAGA) that holds annual tournaments for people with disabilities, the modified USGA rules would lessen the complications that these players would have in general golf tournaments.

Along with the USGA making these steps toward accessibility, the USAGA, as mentioned above, has spotlighted disabled folks in their endeavors to be successful at the game of golf. There are official rankings and standards that USAGA members can use to track their progress and compete in official USAGA tournaments. One of these Adaptive Golf tournaments was even aired on the Golf Channel, normalizing the USAGA as a valid league of golf for people with disabilities, just like the PGA and LPGA highlight and validate professionals.

According to a study done by Indiana University along with Clemson University, 10% of people with disabilities now play golf, 22% of people with disabilities played golf before incurring their disability and 35% of people with disabilities are interested in learning the game of golf. The USAGA helps these percentages increase.

But the USGA’s new rules might just make these numbers spike a little higher. When disabled folks can see that they will be fairly included in the game of golf, they might be more incentivized to try it. According to the USAGA website, people have said that “being out here helps [them] feel normal.” When people feel like they can overcome their disability by playing a sport and without scrutiny or difficulty with accommodation, that’s how you know that the game of golf has really grown.

The USGA’s new rules, along with the USAGA already in place and growing, make the game of golf less elite, less negatively stereotyped, and more inclusive. However, despite new rules and increased coverage, individuals and companies still need to make efforts to destigmatize disabilities in golf and truly make the game more welcoming.

Sources: Golf Channel, Sky Sports, USAGA, USGA

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