By Shelley Gollust

The most famous athlete in the United States is a young man named Tiger Woods. He has earned millions of dollars playing golf. I'm Steve Ember.And I'm Shirley Griffith. The sport of golf is our report today on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.

Experts say Tiger Woods may be one of the best American athletes ever. He is only twenty-five years old. But he has been playing golf since he was a very young child. His father began teaching him how to play when he was only two years old. Tiger Woods won many championships as a child. He became a professional golfer in Nineteen-Ninety-Six.

The next year, Tiger Woods became the first African-American golfer to win the Masters Tournament. It is one of the most important competitions in golf. Experts said it was one of the best performances in the history of professional golf.In Nineteen-Ninety-Nine, Tiger Woods became the first golfer in more than twenty years to win eight professional golf competitions in one year. Earlier this year, Tiger Woods again won the Masters Golf Tournament. The win set another record. It made Tiger Woods the first golfer to hold all four professional major golf championships at the same time. Last year, he won the United States Open, the British Open, and the Professional Golf Association Championship.

Golf experts say it is not just the fact that Tiger Woods has won the four major championships. It is how well he played when he won them.

Many sports experts believe Tiger Woods will only improve as a golfer. They say he has not yet played his best golf game. During his five years as a professional golfer, Tiger Woods has earned more than any other golfer in history. He has earned more than fifteen-million dollars. He earns even more money doing advertisements to help sell sports products. He has a five-year agreement with the Nike company worth forty-million dollars.Tiger's real name is Eldrick. His father, Earl Woods, is an African American. His mother, Kultida Woods, is a native of Thailand.

Sports experts say Tiger Woods is mainly responsible for an increase in the popularity of golf in the United States. They say more people are playing and watching golf because of the young golf star. And they say the game is becoming popular with new groups of people. In the past, most of the people who played golf were older white businessmen. Now the game is becoming popular with younger people and with members of minority and ethnic groups.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))Golf is an outdoor sport in which a player hits a small hard ball over a long distance. It is played on a large area of land called a golf course. The course is divided into eighteen areas, called holes, of different lengths and difficulty. Players must hit the ball into a small cup in the ground at the end of each of the eighteen holes.

An eighteen-hole golf course covers about sixty hectares. It is usually at least six-thousand meters from the beginning of the first hole to the end of the eighteenth. The player who hits the ball the fewest number of times while playing the eighteen holes is the winner.

Players hit the ball with one of several kinds of golf clubs. The clubs are long thin sticks with different shapes at the end where the ball is hit. The kind of club used depends on the distance of the ball from the hole.More than twenty-five million Americans play golf. In recent years, the number of female golfers has increased as has the number of African American golfers. Men, women and children play golf as an individual or team sport. Young people play golf in teams in high school or college. People play for fun, to get fresh air and exercise.

Yet golf is not a sport for everyone. It requires a lot of skill. A golfer must have the power to be able to hit the ball a long distance to get it to the smooth green area that surrounds each hole. Then the golfer must be able to hit the ball carefully for a short distance to get it into the hole. It takes a great deal of time to play the complete eighteen holes. So sometimes people play a shorter game of only nine holes.Golf costs more money to play than many other sports. A player must have a set of golf clubs and golf balls. And it costs a lot of money to play on most golf courses. The United States has more than sixteen-thousand golf courses. About thirty percent are private. They are open only to people who pay a large amount of money every year to be members. About seventy percent of American golf courses are open to the public. People can pay to play golf for a day.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))Experts say that the modern game of golf began in Scotland. The first organized golf group began in Seventeen-Forty-Four in Edinburgh. It established the first written rules of the game. The popularity of golf spread from Scotland and England to parts of the British Commonwealth, including India and Canada.

Experts say people may have played golf in the United States as early as the Seventeen-Hundreds. In Eighteen-Ninety-Four, the Amateur Golf Association of the United States was established. It served as the governing body for golf in the United States. It is now known as the United States Golf Association.In Nineteen-Sixteen, some American golfers formed the Professional Golfers Association, or P-G-A. Professional golfers earn money from playing golf and winning competitions. The P-G-A Tour includes forty-nine golf competitions each year in the United States, Scotland, Canada, Spain and Argentina. P-G-A Tour golfers travel for most of the year to play in many of these competitions.There also are two major golf competitions for women. One of them, the U-S Women's Open was played last month in North Carolina. A young golfer competed in that event. Morgan Pressel is only thirteen years old. She was the second youngest female golfer to compete in the U-S Women's Open. She has been playing golf for four years. Another woman in the golf tournament made news. She is Brenda Kuehn. She played the tournament while eight months pregnant with her second child.

This year, the U-S Women's Open awarded a record of almost three-million dollars in prize money. Karrie Webb of Australia won the championship.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))Another American professional golfer also made news last month. Casey Martin has a disorder of his circulatory system. It blocks blood flow to his right leg. The condition makes it painful and dangerous for him to walk long distances.

Casey Martin wants to compete in the P-G-A Tour competitions. But he is not able to walk about eight kilometers around a golf course. So he wants to ride in a golf cart designed for traveling on a golf course. The P-G-A Tour bans such vehicles in its tournaments. It says walking is an important part of the sport. And it says making an exception for Casey Martin would change championship golf.Casey Martin brought legal action against the P-G-A Tour in Nineteen-Ninety-Seven. He argued that a federal law that protects the rights of people with disabilities gives him the right to use a golf cart during championship events. The P-G-A Tour appealed the case to the United States Supreme Court. Last month, the Court ruled in support of Casey Martin. It ruled that he has a legal right to ride in a golf cart at P-G-A Tour championships.

The Supreme Court ruled that the federal disability law requires the P-G-A Tour to suspend its requirement that players walk the course during tournaments. The Court said that allowing Martin to use a golf cart would not change the tournaments.Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act in Nineteen-Ninety. The law bans unfair treatment of people with disabilities. It requires reasonable actions by businesses and public events to help disabled people unless such actions would seriously change the place or event.

One of Casey Martin's lawyers said the decision means that professional golf tournaments will be governed by the same rules as all other businesses. She called the ruling important to all people in sports because their disabilities will have to be considered.

Many other people praised the Supreme Court ruling. They hope it will give disabled people in the United States the right to play golf and all other sports.

This program was written by Shelley Gollust. I'm Steve Ember.And I'm Shirley Griffith. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.