Woodmont Country Club, one of the area's largest, has voluntarily agreed to allow women members to vote and hold club office, staving off the possible loss of a preferential property tax status, according to the Maryland Atorney General's office.
Under a three-year-old Maryland law, the 500-acre club, located in Rockville, could have lost a special tax discount on its property unless it opened up club activities and benefits to women.
"We want to retain our tax status of course," said Albert J. Feigen, president of the 1,500-member club, who estimated that the discount saves the club more than $100,000 a year in taxes. "In other to do so, it was necessary to meet the desires and requirements of the attorney general's office."
Feigen added that the new bylaws recognize "a change in the fact that women have come of age and are expressing themselves about what should be done in our country club."
Maryland Attorney General Francis B. Burch began investigating the admission and guest policies of Maryland's 80 country clubs three years ago after the General Assembly authorized him to cut off the discount if he finds discriminatory practices and cannot get the club to end them.
The Assembly originally granted the discount - which amounts to a 50 per cent reduction in the assessment of property used for golf courses - in 1965 as an inducement to country clubs to continue using their land for open space instead of selling it for development.
Since Burch began his investigation, Bethesda Country Club has been accused of discriminating against Jewish applicants for membership and using admission procedures that discriminate against blacks. The club is negotiating an agreement with the attorney general's office to avoid loss of its preferential tax status, according to a spokesman for Burch.
Three Montgomery country clubs - Kenwood Golf and Country Club of Bethesda, Greencastle Country Club of Burtonsville and Argyle Country Club of Silver Spring - were found by Burch to be free of discriminatory practices after hearings.
Several other Washington area country clubs in the Maryland suburbs are now under investigation by Burch's office, and the attorney general is expected to reach a decision shortly on Chevy Chase Club. Columbia Country Club of Chevy Chase and Congressional Country Club of Potomac.
Burch noted in a news release on the Woodmont case that the club's membership changed bylaws voluntarily, "without the impetus of a finding of discrimination." A spokesman for Burch said the office would have held a hearing if the club hadnot revised its bylaws.
In addition to equalizing club rights for women members, Woodmont has eliminated the bylaws requiring that an applicant be sponsored by two members "in good standing." The club's blackball rule - whereby an applicant could be excluded by three dissenting votes - was also deleted. Applicants now need only obtain a majority vote of the board of governors.
Woodmont officials acknowledged possible sexual discrimination at their club in a letter to Burch last June. Joel R. Feidelman, chairman of the club's bylaws committee, wrote that the membership adopted new club rules " intended to eliminate all vestiges of sexual discrimination . . ."
Under the former bylaws, which club president Feigen said were at least 35 years old, women were accorded the rank of "associate members." To qualify, a woman had to be 21 years of age and have a male relative who was eligible for club membership.
As an associate member, a woman was entitled to use the club's facilities but was not able to vote or hold office. That privilege was reserved for "active" members, defined as "gentlemen who have attained their 25th birthday . . ."