Women can no longer be forced to wait until 11 a.m. on weekends to play golf at Robin Dale Country Club in Prince George's County, a county circuit judge has ruled.
Judge Perry Bowen said Thursday that the club is not private and therefore its rules must apply equally to all of its members. Bowen is expected to sign the order that enforces his decision this weekend.
"We're very elated," said Geneva Ernest, 60, one of three women who filed a complaint against the club over the play-time rule. She said she will tee off at the club's course before 11 a.m., as soon as she is sure that the club has received the judge's order.
For years, women at the southern Prince George's County club have been required to play later in the day on weekends, giving male club members first crack at coveted morning golfing hours.
Ernest and two other women originally filed a complaint about the club's rule with the county Human Relations Commission in June 1981. Ernest, who has been a member of the 240-member club since 1961, said that the 11 a.m. rule has been strictly enforced over the last two years. She said that the rule was created to allow male members to get a head start on the course because they claim women golfers are too slow.
Last August, the Human Relations Commission ruled in favor of the women and ordered the club to stop applying rules that were unequally enforced against the women. The club ignored the order, and the women took the case to the Prince George's County attorney's office, which in turn asked the courts for a judgment.
State Sen. Thomas V. (Mike) Miller, the lawyer for Robin Dale, told the County Attorney's office that he had instructed the club to ignore the commission's order because the club was private and therefore not subject to HRC rulings.
But Bowen ruled Thursday that Robin Dale is "public" because it does not have a selective membership and anyone willing to pay dues may join.
"That case made my day," said Mike Comeau, the assistant county attorney who argued the case.
But Miller said he didn't understand Bowen's ruling. He said yesterday that under state law, the club cannot discriminate in accepting members, but it does have bylaws calling itself a "private" club and charging an initiation fee to join. "It's Catch-22," Miller said, adding that "all 10 golf clubs in Montgomery County have the same rule" disallowing women to tee off early in the morning. He said he did not know if the club would appeal the decision.