City may purchase cart for disabled golfers

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— On Tuesday afternoon, Steamboat Springs resident Ryan Baker knew the great feeling that comes when you drive a golf ball down the middle of the No. 14 fairway at the Haymaker Golf Course.

Baker, a avid recreational golfer, received a couple of hoots and hollers from the other three guys he was playing with as he piloted a specially designed SoloRider golf cart off of the tee box after the shot.

The city of Steamboat Springs is considering purchasing one of the specialized carts for disabled players at Haymaker Golf Course and Baker was one of its first test subjects.

Baker has used a wheelchair since 1991 when he was injured in an auto accident. Baker was sleeping in the back of a van when it collided with another vehicle, changing his life forever.

"I'll be nine in June," he said. "I can't believe that I've been in a wheelchair for nine years."

While the accident may have changed Baker's life, he has not let it slow down his active lifestyle.

He played sled hockey this winter and is an extremely talented wheelchair tennis player.

Baker also enjoys golf a sport he started playing before his injury but said that, since the accident, it has been more complicated to play.

"I wouldn't say that golf was inaccessible, but it is inconvenient to play," Baker said. "It's hard to hit a golf ball out of a regular cart and this one (the SoloRider) makes it a lot easier to enjoy the game."

Baker played several times last summer in a regular golf cart that had its lid removed, but said it was difficult to keep from hitting the vehicle with the club when swinging. The other down side is that regular carts, which tend to be very heavy, cannot be taken onto most of the greens on local courses.

"I would usually hit up to the greens and then let a good friend putt out for me," Baker said.

But in Tuesday's round, all that changed.

David Boyer, a design technician with SoloRider Industries, brought the specially designed cart from his home base in Englewood.

The cart allows one disabled player to play and enjoy golf almost as easily as an able-bodied person can. Its design and weight also allow the disabled golfer greater access to the course.

The cart is equipped with a special seat that swivels 360 degrees. It allows the player to shift his position to around the back of the cart where there is nothing to obstruct the swing.

The cart can also be taken onto the green because it is designed to spread the weight of the golfer, bag and cart to around 5 pounds per square inch. In most cases, the cart can be driven on and off the green and cause no damage. A rugged suspension system also allows the cart to maneuver through most of the terrain even a 5-inch cement curb.

"It doesn't mean a disabled golfer can rip around the golf courses or drive around the green without care," Baker said. "The normal etiquette of golf must be followed and the golfer needs to use some common sense."

The cart is operated with the controls mounted on the steering wheel. This allows disabled golfers to drive forward, backward and maneuver with relative ease.

"We have more than 100 units in operation all over the United states," Boyer said. "We are making about two of these carts each day."

Boyer brought the cart to Steamboat after Chris Wilson, city director of open space, parks and recreational services, asked him to demonstrate it. The city is considering purchasing such a cart.

"We are still in the investigation stage," Wilson said. "We are also looking for input from the disabled community on what type of cart they would like to see."

Wilson said there are several choices available on the market at this time and that the city wants to make the best long-term decision. To do this, the city may be looking at different carts in the future or asking the disabled community for help in the decision-making process.

How the cart would be used, what type of cart would be purchased and how that cart would be paid for are still very much up in the air.

Wilson said other concerns are how the cart will impact the course and also how it will impact the speed of play.

"We have always gone out of our way to provide for the disabled golfer," Wilson said. "But our policy is that when we get a tee time for a disabled golfer, we leave it up to the superintendent to make the final decision."

Wilson added that the Haymaker golf board is not feeling any legal pressure to add a disabled cart based on ADA concerns, but said the course management is trying to make golf available to anyone who wants to play the game.

"There are a lot of disabled players out there, so this is an issue we have to address," Wilson said.

Boyer talked with representatives from all three local golf courses while he was in Steamboat on Tuesday.

Sharing one cart between all three courses is a possibility, Wilson said. When he worked for the city of Westminster Parks and Recreation Department, workers would move the limited number of disabled carts between the different courses depending on demand. Wilson wasn't sure if that would work in Steamboat, but said that it might be an option.

The SoloRider carts cost $6,495 apiece, but Boyer said that 50 percent of that purchase price can be returned in the form of a tax credit up to $1,200 each year.

That would bring the price more in line with a traditional cart.

Wilson added that there are several more steps in the process before the city starts figuring out how a new cart might be financed.

To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209 or e-mail jrussell@amigo.net

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