Rule on Spouses Doesn't Tee Off the Champ

By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Sunday, October 15, 2006

Hilary Bruggen is one heck of a golfer. "I'm not that good," she says modestly, "but as a middle-aged mommy with three children, a business and a lot of charity work, I'm really happy with a 9 handicap." And quite pleased that she won the Columbia Country Club Ladies championship last month.

Alas, it will be her only big title at the exclusive private club in Chevy Chase. When her divorce becomes final later this year, she'll lose her membership and the opportunity to play on the 108-year-old club's fabulous 18-hole course, site of the 1921 U.S. Open. In the secretive world of country clubs, the buzz about Bruggen's departure is unusual.

When reached for comment, Bruggen confirmed that she and her husband became members in 1997 -- and, as was traditional, the membership was listed under her husband's name. The business consultant began playing golf every weekend, taught her kids how to play and became a commentator on NewsChannel 8's "Capital Golf Weekly" and Washington Post Radio. Bruggen is also the author of a golf column for Smart CEO magazine. Last year, she interviewed Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player when they were here for the Presidents Cup.

None of that matters much in the world of private country clubs, where memberships are up for grabs in divorce cases. Columbia currently has about 1,500 members, and because Bruggen is the nonmember spouse (as are most wives), she'd have to apply all over again and, if accepted, pay 50 percent of the initiation fee -- somewhere in the neighborhood of $35,000. Bruggen is considering her options, including applying to other clubs.

Club officials did not respond to calls for comment. Private clubs, for the most part, have resisted automatically extending memberships to divorcing spouses for fear of growing too big. Columbia now admits women, and ex-husbands of female members face the same problem. "It's totally fair," Bruggen says. "You can't just give memberships away."

In the meanwhile, she can still play at Columbia -- as the guest of her golfing buddies. "I'm a big believer in evolution, not revolution," she says.

Sorry, You're Not on the List

One in an occasional series of dispatches from parties you should have crashed.

Event: YouthAIDS Gala: "Faces of Latin America"

Site: Tysons Corner's Ritz-Carlton

Scene: Washington's moneyed elite ( Ted Leonsis , Kenneth Feld ) in fiesta cocktail best, mingling with pretty Hollywood imports.

Cool guests: Wynonna Judd , whose baby sister, Ashley (a YouthAIDS global ambassador), hosted; Sir Richard Branson ; Miss Universe 2006 Zuleyka Rivera .

Coolest guest: "Project Runway" star Tim Gunn . He gamely ID'd the best-dressed VIP for our colleague Jose Antonio Vargas: "I'm telling you, Sheila Johnson is rocking tonight! Did you see her in that tuxedo?"

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