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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.