Ellicott City golf club's gender rules questioned

Women are prohibited on course at Turf Valley

August 01, 1999|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Women may be American heroes in soccer, but Joseph B. Adamiak's wife, Myong, got different treatment when the couple recently tried to play golf together as guests at the Turf Valley Resort and Country Club in Ellicott City.

Waiting to tee off at their scheduled 9 a.m. Saturday start time, they were told a male member had complained and women are not allowed on the club's "A" course before noon on weekends. She was hurt and embarrassed; he was furious.

"I got hot. This is 1999," said Adamiak, an Air Force retiree who urged a boycott of the club in a letter to the editor published July 25 by The Sun. "I just thought it was archaic and chauvinistic."

While the club member who invited Adamiak and his wife said he was unaware of any rule restricting women, club officials say it is long-standing and has the support of members, including women.

An attorney who has sued several country clubs for discrimination said the club appears to be violating the law.

But club officials insist they're not violating state law or a written agreement Turf Valley and 27 other clubs reached more than a decade ago with the Maryland attorney general. They receive a big property tax break for maintaining their land as open space and for agreeing not to "discriminate based on race, color, creed, sex or national origin in granting membership or guest privileges in or at the club, including, but not limited to, privileges with regard to the use of its golf courses."

At Turf Valley, female golfers agreed to accept exclusive use of one of the club's three courses on Wednesdays and Thursdays, club officials say, while the men get the more popular weekend mornings for their tournaments. Class "A" memberships are the club's most expensive, with initiation fees ranging from $6,500 to $8,000, and annual dues from $2,640 to $3,360.

"I'm a relatively new member. Nobody ever told me," said John Paisly, the member who invited the couple. "It was handled poorly. We were embarrassed."

Turf Valley marketing director Regina Ford said she knows about the agreement with the state, but believes the agreement between men and women golfers for exclusive times on the "A" course doesn't violate it. Women can play the course when the men's weekend tournaments are over, she said.

Besides, she said, the club has another golf rule -- not mentioned during the incident July 3 -- which prohibits all "local" (within 50 miles) guests on the "A" course on weekends from April 1 to Nov. 1. That rule apparently was ignored by whoever scheduled a tee time for Paisly's party. The Adamiaks are from Odenton in Anne Arundel County.

`A power struggle'

But Linda Hitt Thatcher, a Landover attorney who has sued several country clubs for discrimination, disagreed with Ford.

"That's absolutely illegal," she said about gender-based systems. "This is not just about tee times. What this is really about is a power struggle" in which men want control of the courses.

Club officials and veteran members say the club isn't sexist and defend the arrangement as a popular one that works.

"Guys like to be with their guys. We have a lot of couples' tournaments, mixed events," said Linda Taylor, a Baltimore County teacher and member of the club's 18-Hole Ladies Group who has played at Turf Valley for nearly 20 years.

"It's more about camaraderie," she said, but acknowledged that "the men irritate me from time to time with their chauvinistic attitudes. Some complain women play too slowly," which is incorrect, she said.

In fact, women play faster, she said. "The men think they do, but they don't."

`A members' course'

Ford, who is not a golfer, said "as a working woman, I can consider that women want to play in the mornings," but she added the club has two other courses, and the "A" designation is rotated among them. The members made the rule, she said, not management. "It's a members' course."

Dennis J. Dolan, past president of the club's now-defunct men's golf association, said the rule was adopted "because most of the men were working. This was the best time to have tournaments." The rule has been reconsidered several times, he said, but it has been reaffirmed. "As far as I know, everybody seems to be OK with this," he said.

Donald J. Dunn, president of the Howard County Golfers Association, said it is not unusual for courses to set aside times for special groups, like women, men, seniors or juniors, or to have leagues for men or women. "Their function is social and competitive. There's nothing exclusionary about it," he said.

In the past, things were different, he said. "In the '50s, there were public and private courses that didn't allow women to play on weekends. They made rules to exclude the women," he said, who were "considered too slow," and "didn't work."

Now, said Thomas Healy, owner of the nearby Waverly Woods golf course, "Ladies play faster because they're paranoid that the men around them think they are slow. That's a bad rap."

Healy and Thomas C. Beach, owner of Willow Springs golf course in western Howard, said men and women play together on their courses, which are open to the public. "We don't have any such restrictions. At our course, they [women] can play any time they want to play," Beach said.

Myong Adamiak played that day at Turf Valley, but on another course. Although her feelings were hurt, she said, she didn't want to further embarrass Paisly. "He's a member. He's my friend. I don't want to make a big deal about it," she said.

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