Phoenix country club bans women from its dining room
In a strange throwback to the days when men sealed business deals with a brandy in one hand, a cigar in the other, and their wife waiting for them in another room as they were banned from entering the 'men's quarters', a country club in Phoenix has decided to adopt these out of date traditions.
The club has a policy of forbidding women in the men's grill room, which is a centre of power dining in Phoenix, and those that dared to speak out about it were shunned from the community.
Barbara Van Sittert, one of those women, said her husband, Logan, 73, has been heckled while playing golf and once found his locker defaced.
“They hooted and hollered at him and called his wife a whore,” said Mrs. Van Sittert, 72, a petite, quiet woman with an elegant white bob. “It was not warm and fuzzy.”
Charges of sexism against private golf clubs are not uncommon; the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, where the Masters is held each year, does not permit women to be members.
But here in Arizona, where the governor, secretary of state, chief justice and Senate minority leader are women, it has rankled more than a few women that nonmember men have more rights than paying female members at the Phoenix Country Club, a century-old fixture in the city’s social and business life where it costs tens of thousands of dollars a year to belong.
Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, is not a member of the club, but Dennis Burke, her chief of staff, is. Mr. Burke has publicly opposed the separated dining rooms, and in an interview called them “indefensible.” Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, does not belong to the club but has spoken there. (The McCain presidential campaign declined to comment on the separate dining rooms.) According to a 2007 club directory, Mr. McCain’s son, Andrew, is a member, along with scores of other notable Phoenix residents, including the rocker Alice Cooper.
Women at the club are not permitted to have lunch in the men’s grill room with their husbands after a round of golf; they have been barred from trophy ceremonies after tournaments, even ones they have sponsored, and may not participate in one of the most sacred rituals of the men’s grill room — sealing a deal over a beer with a client.
As teenage boys saunter into the sumptuously appointed men’s grill room, their mothers are relegated to the ladies’ grill, down the hall with a hot plate, some card tables and no bar. The club also has a formal dining room, where men and women are welcome, but it is closed between meals and is not a spot to get a drink.
The club is now trying to amend its policy but some of the members are not happy about that.
The club’s board has not found the attention or legal proceedings enchanting. First, it amended its bylaws to state that any member who makes “derogatory or otherwise injurious comments in the media” is subject to suspension and legal fees, and ditto for those who sue. It also warned that spouses of dead members would no longer automatically maintain their privileges.
“You get into very difficult family issues,” said one woman who wanted to speak about the policy, but feared expulsion. “It becomes, ‘Mommy got Daddy kicked out of the club.’ “
Russell Brown, a member, said in remarks at the Arizona Women Lawyers Association luncheon this past winter that he thought the men’s grill “disadvantaged women professionals.” Mr. Brown said in an interview that he was subsequently called before the club’s governing board to “explain my actions.”
Next came anonymous e-mail messages, sent to some female members of the club, deriding Mr. Brown and the Van Sitterts, and suggesting, among other things, “you and your type needs to go,” and a Web site was set up with some members’ names and phone numbers under the title “Femi Nazis here in Phoenix,” according to a complaint filed by Mr. Brown in the matter.