There are some in Anne Arundel County who say the real Mason-Dixon line is here, along the South River, a crossing that divides urban sprawl from farmhouse landscapes and old tobacco fields.

Thirteen miles south of that line sits Old South Country Club, sanctuary to the county elite, a private membership club furnished with dark wood and hunting murals that evoke an antebellum manor. Its current and former members include the county executive's husband, the president of the state Senate, a former secretary of the Army and author Tom Clancy.

And five miles north of the river sits the Annapolis courthouse, where Old South and its genteel image are being challenged.

Erin Zollars, 26, a former waitress at the country club, filed suit in Anne Arundel Circuit Court in December against Old South and three of its most prominent members: Frederick Schram, purchasing officer under County Executive Janet S. Owens (D); Nicholas Manis, a lobbyist known in and around the halls of state government; and William F. Chaney, a club founder whose family has inhabited southern Anne Arundel for 350 years.

Zollars alleges that the Old South members, men in their forties and fifties, treated the clubhouse as a private singles bar and the female servers as easy prey. At least seven other women, all former servers and most in their early twenties, have sworn affidavits supporting her claims.

She is seeking $1.5 million for emotional distress and assault.

The suit, should it go to trial, has the makings of an epic battle: northern ways against southern, old against new, a handful of well-connected men against the anonymous young women who served them drinks after an afternoon on the fairways. Should the men lose, the potential fallout could reach the county executive, who employs Schram and formerly engaged Chaney, a lifelong friend and adviser, as her campaign treasurer. Owens and Chaney are distant cousins.

Among the three golf buddies who developed Old South 15 years ago, the most colorful -- the most quintessentially southern -- is Billy Chaney.

Old South was his idea. It sits on land his family once owned, in a town -- Lothian -- that took its name from the Chaney family estate. The son of a concrete industrialist, Chaney, 59, says he is descended from Gen. Robert E. Lee. He built a 24-foot statue of the Confederate leader near Antietam National Battlefield. He is a lifetime member of the NAACP. He also happens to wish that the South had won the Civil War.

Chaney considers himself a southern gentleman. And it is this claim that has lately come under challenge.

In a 19-page complaint, Zollars claims that Chaney and other Old South members groped her so relentlessly on the legs and buttocks that she took to wearing pants instead of the customary skirt with her uniform. She alleges that Schram persistently inquired what type and color of underwear she was wearing and whether she would show them to him, one time pursuing her down a hallway and to the door of the women's restroom.

And on May 22, 2004, Zollars alleges, Manis, 47, smacked her so hard on the buttocks that other employees heard it. The encounter prompted Zollars to resign and club management to issue a written apology for an unspecified "incident."

She and several former co-workers said they felt obliged to tolerate the advances because the men, particularly Chaney, seemed to outrank their bosses.

Joe Tucker, Old South's president, said no club member is above the rules. "I don't care who it is," he said. "If there's a problem and it comes to the board, we deal with it."

Chaney and the others deny any improper touching or off-color remarks; David Rosenberg, attorney for Old South, said the club "did not commit the wrongs it is accused of."

Chaney did acknowledge, in an exhaustive deposition, that he may have touched Zollars and other servers on the ankle or the waist, along with the occasional hug. He conceded using such terms as "honey," "sugar" and "darling" with the young staff. That, he said, is part of being southern.

"I know you don't understand that, but that's the way we talk," he said in a room filled with lawyers from the north side of the river. "We try to be friendly with people."

In a brief telephone interview three months ago, Chaney opined that Zollars was an essentially good woman who had been led down the litigious path by lawyers who recognized his family name and sensed opportunity.

"The things this child says -- this young lady says -- are absolutely ridiculous," said Chaney, who has since declined further comment. "I consider myself a southern gentleman. I don't do things like that. I will pray for her."

The Chaney family emigrated from England in 1649 and long occupied the 1801 manor house called Lothian. William Chaney inherited much of his wealth from his father, who built a thriving business in sand, gravel and concrete.

Chaney is a respected and outspoken amateur historian. He considers Lee the greatest American of the 19th century and in 1997 published a biography, "Duty Most Sublime," that describes the general as fundamentally opposed to both secession and slavery. The book refers to the Civil War as the War for Southern Independence.

Chaney stirred emotions six years ago when he erected a statue to Pvt. Benjamin Welch Owens, a heroic Confederate soldier distantly related to him and the county executive, in Lothian. Later, in a bolder gesture, he commissioned a statue of Lee on land he purchased near the Antietam battlefield.

Old South opened in spring 1991. Its 450 members pay $7,500 to $25,000 to join and as much as $500 a month in dues.

The clubhouse rises like a white-columned wedding cake at the center of the pea-green course, tucked behind stone pillars off Route 408 in a part of Maryland still dotted with barns and traversed by winding, two-lane roads. Inside, the club is laid out like a southern mansion, with ornate rugs, hardwood floors and a marble fireplace. The dress code requires collars and forbids denim.

The club already has survived two minor scandals.

In 2000, members of the County Council questioned the transfer of 16 acres from the county to the club under Owens's signature, citing her rapport with Chaney. Owens and Chaney said the county was merely returning acres of flood plain that rightfully belonged to the club and had been deeded to the county by mistake. The county Ethics Commission declined to investigate further, and the matter was dropped.

Last year, the NAACP and American Civil Liberties Union questioned why Old South had only one black member and whether any blacks occupied management positions at the club. Club management replied that three of its members were black and that it would welcome more black applicants.

The dining room at Old South, filled on a recent evening with mostly older couples, is "as open and diverse as Applebee's," said Bill Dale, a club member who serves as its general counsel.

But it is there that Zollars and other former servers say they found themselves fending off relentless advances from drunken older men.

The affidavits "speak for themselves," said Brian Markovitz, attorney for Zollars.

"On any typical shift, they would put their arms around my waist, hug me or even kiss me on the cheek," Alisha Juliano, 23, said in an affidavit. Chaney, she said, "was often intoxicated at the club and would get very close to my face when interacting with me." She said another member offered her money to make out with a female supervisor. She said she refused.

Maggie Stevenson, 22, said in an affidavit that Schram, the 56-year-old aide to Owens, "frequently touched my arm, would pull me close to him and whisper in my ear that I was pretty while I served him. One time," she said, "he in fact grabbed me, pulled me into his lap and held me there."

Kristina Smalley, 35, said Chaney once offered to buy her an outfit from a Victoria's Secret catalogue; Chaney said he recalled no such incident. She said Schram once asked whether he could french kiss her to feel her tongue ring.

Club attorneys said they will respond to the allegations if and when the matter is tried in court. But Dale said of them generally, "When you really get down to it, there really isn't a whole lot there."

Joseph Rice of Dunkirk practices putting. Behind him stands the pillared Old South clubhouse, off Route 408 in Lothian in southern Anne Arundel County.Lori Pinson tends bar at the clubhouse grill, where other former employees say they were harassed by drunken members of the private golf club.