Robin Dale is just a workingman's golf and country club in rural southern Prince George's County, so its officers and lawyer say. But three female members see it differently, contending the club discriminates against women by banning them from the links before 11 a.m. on weekends.
The women golfers, through the county government, have taken the club to court to overturn the weekend morning men-only rule. In the process they have caused a bit of a stir at this quiet, backwoods golf club.
Geneva Ernest, one of the women who filed the complaint scheduled to be heard in circuit court this week, said she and her colleagues in the suit have suffered frosty relations since their challenge to the status quo. "They just haven't been too kind," she said.
Said Lou Receveur, vice president of the 240-member club, just north of the Charles County border, "There has been some dissension--primarily from a very small group of women . . . and men. We all realize that times have changed--maybe they'll change for us."
The rule causing the controversy has been in effect for 20 years and was designed to reserve busy weekend tee times for men, whom the country club traditionally has seen as the major breadwinners with little time during the week for sporting fun.
Similar rules are common in other country clubs in the area and have been ruled legal in federal court.
Ernest said she knew of Robin Dale's rule when she joined the Brandywine club in 1961. But it wasn't until the scorching summer of 1981 that she objected. That summer she and her two or three female golfing partners had to broil in the sun in order to get in a few rounds of golf on the weekend, she said.
"The three of us were working and we usually played together on Saturdays and Sundays, but it was too hot," said Ernest, 60, a former secretary with the state government. Ernest received unofficial permission to start before 9 a.m. several weekends that summer.
"Each Friday we had to call and say we had a foursome, are you going to allow us to go off before 8:30 a.m. Saturday ," said Mary A. Massey of Temple Hills, another one of the group challenging the rule. "It was like begging, and they still wouldn't give us an actual tee time," Massey said.
In the spring of 1982 Ernest, Massey and Virginia N. Fitzhugh of Waldorf got fed up with the rule and asked the county Human Relations Commission for help.
"What really triggered it was that one day they gave us a cart to go out and play, and then they came over and took the clubs off the cart and said that some men were waiting for the cart. That's when I got really aggravated," Ernest said.
The commission, after holding hearings, found that Robin Dale was not a private club because three commission investigators, who were not members of the club, were able to play the 18-hole golf course just by paying a fee. In addition, Robin Dale officers testified at the time that the club had never denied membership to anyone and that it ran regular advertisements for members.
Clubs that are not private must adhere to county laws barring discrimination on the basis of race and sex. Last August, having decided that Robin Dale was public, the commission ordered the club to stop enforcing rules that applied unequally to male and female members.
When Robin Dale refused to comply, insisting they were private, the commission, through the county attorney's office, went to court to enforce its order. The case will be heard Thursday in Upper Marlboro.
Miller said Robin Dale was founded and operates as a private club. What is ironic, he said, is that if Robin Dale practiced more blatant discrimination in its membership policies, like Burning Tree Club in Montgomery County where women members are not allowed, there would be no question about the club's exclusive, and hence private, nature.
"If they discriminated against Jews and blacks then we wouldn't be here. It's ludicrous," said Miller.
In fact, Miller said, most private country clubs in Prince George's, including Tantallon Golf and Country Club where he is a member, do not let women tee off before 11 a.m.
Miller said he personally does not like the men-only morning rule but defends Robin Dale's right as a private club to make its own rules.