Do prosthetics give a disabled golfer an unfair advantage?

There is little doubt that golf is arguably the greatest test of self-control that an individual sportsman can face. During competition, golfers can feel their palms get sweaty, their knees wobble and their grip tighten on the club as they  play themselves into contention. These natural physical reactions to the stress of competition and the desire to win are part and parcel of the golfer and how effectively they can deal with these issues, will go a long way towards deciding whether it is them holding the monthly medal trophy aloft at the end of the day, or reminiscing in the club house about how it could have been.

So, in devil’s advocate mode, is it reasonable to think that a disabled golfer, who maybe uses a modified golf cart, or has prosthetic arms or legs, is actually at an advantage over an able-bodied golfer in this situation?

It sounds like a fatuous question initially, but there is a degree of logic to it. Prosthetic legs don’t wobble on the downswing, prosthetic palms don’t get sweaty. They are not subject to the physical stresses that impinge upon the play of able-bodied golfers. Initially, it would seem that this argument may have a point.

Yet it doesn’t. On so many different levels.

barriers for disabled-golfers

The first level is simply the ruling. The R&A and USGA both recognise that prosthetic limbs are perfectly legal. Even prosthetic devices that have been individually designed to facilitate someone playing golf, such as an attachment to fit onto an arm that grips the club effectively, are legal. To even speculate that this offers the disabled golfer an ‘unfair advantage’ over an able-bodied golfer is sheer madness. But does it offer an advantage over other disabled golfers?

This is an important point, when disabled golf first became popular, it was not the most harmonious start. Competitions organised in good faith were being won by people who’s definition of ‘disability’ was perhaps, pushing the boundaries of fairness. It led to arguments on more than one occasion when a group of wheelchair bound golfers lost out once again to a man who woke up in the morning with a bit of a sniffle and stubbed his toe the day before.

To combat this, the R&A produced “A Modification of the Rules of Golf for Disabled Golfers” document, which clearly outlines what they perceive to be a disability and how the game can incorporate them within its handicap system. It provided clear guidance for disabled golfers and provided much needed clarity on the issue.

In terms of prosthetics, the advice is simple. If there is any doubt as to whether any prosthetic or other device is legal, then it is up to the committee or the R&A to provide a ruling on it. Quite simply, the device is seen by a panel of experts who then rule on whether the addition is within the Rules or not.

Yet this situation is a rare event. Quite simply prosthetics are used by disabled golfers not so that they can gain an advantage, but simply so that they can play the game. It is a fundamental requirement for them to play, If you don’t have legs, you need assistance to take a stance to make a swing. That isn’t an unfair advantage at all, that is accessibility.

Just-for-Smiles-golf-disabled golfers

In a way, it is no different to the able bodied golfer who heads out onto the course with the lates iPad app or iPhone app stored, ready to use on the course. Are they at an advantage over a playing partner who is not told the exact distance to the hole, or the green for every shot? Is an able-bodied person who uses a motorised trolley to cart their clubs around the course at an advantage over a partner who decides to carry them and who, at the end of  18 holes, is likely to have used far more energy during the round as a result?

Golf-Cart-on-a-golf-course

Of course not. One of the greatest things about golf is that it allows people of all abilities and disabilities to play the same game, at the same time yet still be competitive. You cannot do that in soccer, baseball, hockey or almost any other sport. If Luke Donald or Rory McIlroy gave anyone a generous handicap at their local course, then it would be a competitive game. Prosthetics are just part and parcel of that for the disabled golfer. They are not employed to give them an advantage, merely to give them access.

Images by Gorilla Golf Blog,  familymwr

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