Women Allowed to Join Club

by Jennifer Castelli
Prince George's Journal, 10/31/95

Last year, Phyllis Nicholson and Patricia Sodeman couldn't golf on weekend mornings.

It wasn't because The Country Club at Woodmore where they belonged was closed or hosting a tournament. Instead, the women were considered associates according to the club's membership guidelines and not entitled to full club privileges.

But last week, Nicholson, Sodeman and the Mitchellville club signed an agreement officially changing the club's membership categories so women have access to the same rights and facilities as their male counterparts.

In 1994, Nicholson and Sodeman filed a complaint with Attorney General J. Joseph Curran against Woodmore arguing that the club policy that labeled women "associate members" represented gender discrimination. About 15 other women joined the complaint.

But officials at Woodmore voluntarily agreed to change their guidelines. As of about a month ago, members can choose from an unlimited golfing family membership where both the adults are full members, a limited golfing family membership where only one adult is a full member or an unlimited golfing individual membership.

"I feel like it's a giant step," Nicholson said. "What that means to me is I can play golf in the morning and still have time in the late afternoon to do something else."

Linda Hitt Thatcher, an attorney who represented the women, said this is the first case in which a club voluntarily has changed its rules. "Other clubs in Maryland should really look to Woodmore as an example," she said.

Woodmore President Glenn Morrison said the club was happy to change its membership policy.

"We feel that we have not discriminated. Instead, I feel that a reworking of our membership categories was in order to reflect the 1990's categories of family," he said.

For a married couple or family under the old rules, only the husband could be listed as a full member; a wife and children were described as associates. Associate members could not tee off until 1 p.m. Saturdays and 12:30 p.m. Sundays and holidays and could not vote for or serve on the club's board of directors - restrictions that did not apply to full members.

"The most important thing is that the spouse gets to vote. It's not so much the tee times, but empowering women. Let them have a voice in the club," Hitt Thatcher said. Since the policy change this month, about 40 women have switched to the joint memberships, she added.

Facilities at the 350-acre club, on Enterprise Road, include an 18-hole championship golf course, six tennis courts, a swimming pool area and several restaurants.

Although Woodmore is considered a private club, Hitt Thatcher said it is one of more than 25 country clubs in Maryland that receives a tax break from the state. "If a club enjoys any type of government assistance they are not truly private" - and can be violating the law if they discriminate against women, she said.

Similar complaints are still pending against other clubs in the area, including Manor Club in Norbeck and Bethesda Country Club, Hitt Thatcher said.