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The Case For Carts
October 30, 2006
Disabled soldiers can play golf if given the tools they deserve
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October 30, 2006

The Case For Carts

Disabled soldiers can play golf if given the tools they deserve

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I am not a golfer. For the congressman who represents Pebble Beach, that is probably blasphemy, but it's the truth. I do enjoy watching others play, however. Several years ago I was introduced to a gentleman who played golf from the back of a golf cart because he was disabled and couldn't use his legs. The cart was specially designed to allow him to address the ball as if he didn't have any physical impairment.

Fast-forward a couple of years and shift from the courses of Pebble Beach to the amputee ward at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. No matter what your political view is on the war in Iraq, I think we all agree that once our troops are engaged, it's only right that they get the resources they need to do their job. And for those who return to America injured, it's only right that they get the health care and rehabilitative services they need to get back to active and productive lives.

I have spent time at Walter Reed with soldiers who are recovering amputees. During those visits I've become familiar with the physical therapy the patients endure--an exhaustive regimen that is designed to bring these warrior-athletes back to a physical state that will enable them to participate in sports just as able-bodied folks do. Jogging, biking, basketball and golf are all part of the program.

When it comes to golf, though, there is a cruel twist: The program at Walter Reed doesn't have the equipment to actually put people on the course. Sure, they can regain their strength, flexibility and balance, and learn how to swing a club, but to really play they would need special golf carts. These single-rider carts are driven with hand controls and have a swivel seat that lifts the golfer up so that he can properly address the ball. They also have tires that are specially designed not to damage the delicate grass on the greens.

It wouldn't be so bad if these newly rehabilitated golfers were released into a world that provided the specialty carts, but most public courses don't have them and, sadly, neither do the approximately 150 military bases with courses where many veterans and retirees play. This is particularly painful because federal law requires the Department of Defense to provide the carts, but the Pentagon has been slow to do so.

Something needed to be done. Earlier this year I introduced language into the FY 2007 Defense Authorization bill (H.R. 5122) that set a timetable for the Department of Defense to figure out how to get these carts to the injured soldiers who need them. On Oct. 17 President Bush signed the bill into law, meaning that the efforts at physical rehabilitation through golf will not be in vain, and these returned soldiers will lead a fuller life once the Defense Department fulfills its responsibilities under federal law.

For the congressman who represents Pebble Beach, that's great to know.

Congressman Sam Farr (D., Calif.) has represented the Golden State's 17th district for 12 years.

GOLF PLUS will next appear in the Nov. 13 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.