It doesn't seem
possible that some cities in the U.S. could make walking on a public golf
course illegal, but a few have done just that. The Florida municipalities of
Daytona Beach, Ormond Beach and Port Orange have mandated that golfers ride a
golf cart when playing on their six public courses.
I'm 71 and
started playing golf in 1949. I've always walked. To me, walking is an
essential part of the game. Until I moved to the Daytona area seven years ago,
I lived most of my life in the suburbs of Detroit, where I worked for 27 years
at an energy utility and another 12 as a homebuilder. In the late 1980s I
started making regular trips to Daytona Beach, and during those trips I enjoyed
playing on the public courses. But in 1990 two of those courses made carts
mandatory to increase revenue (I was told), and over the next few years the
others followed. This not only ruined my golf experience, but it also struck me
as unfair. Requiring golf carts changes the basic nature of the game and
deprives people of their liberty to choose. Governments cannot make walking
illegal on public land without a good reason.
I approached a
city commissioner about eliminating the restriction but was told that as a
matter of proprietary law the city was allowed to mandate carts. I continued to
press for a more satisfying resolution but got only evasions and excuses.
Finally, in 1996, I started visiting law libraries. When I looked up
proprietary law, I learned that it did allow cities to make whatever rules they
wanted, as long as they did not violate the Constitution. As I see it, the
Constitution guarantees me the right to choose to walk.
In 2002 I filed
suit against five of the six courses, saying that they were denying me my
constitutional rights. The judge denied the motion, saying that I had not
identified a "deprived liberty interest." I rewrote the complaint and
tried again. I was denied for the same reason, and the judge recommended that I
hire a lawyer to rewrite the complaint for me. The lawyer turned in a complex
four-page document that he promised the judge would have to let stand. Guess
what? It was denied for the same reason.
I appealed to the
Fifth District Court of Appeal, the Florida Supreme Court and eventually to the
U.S. Supreme Court. While I lost in the courts, I feel every pertinent law
supports my position. Thus, my conviction has only gotten stronger. I deeply
believe that the Constitution is the supreme law of the United States, and hope
that it, and all the golfers who love to walk, will someday prevail.
Daniel E. Zurla,
10 handicapper, has written A Civil Right: The Freedom to Walk a Public Golf
Course (Seven Locks Press).
Golf Plus will
next appear in the March 6 Sports Illustrated.