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Club to vote on allowing women to join

The men of the exclusive Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club will confront the big question Tuesday night:

Can women be equal with men?

H. Lee Perdigon, club president, confirmed Friday that a vote will be taken to determine whether women will be permitted to join the club as voting members.

Perdigon referred to the matter as "the gender issue."

But it also might be called the Culverhouse question, because the issue was raised by Gay Culverhouse, president of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers football team.

In October, she threatened to sue Palma Ceia, one of the favorite meeting grounds of South Tampa's elite, after the club barred her from using the Bucs' corporate membership.

Club rules say such memberships can be used only by men. After she made her declaration, Culverhouse and the club opened private negotiations.

On Friday, Culverhouse said she had been told the club also would vote on whether women could use the all-male Men's Grill, whether rules restricting women's golf and tennis time would be changed and whether women can use the corporate membership privilege she is seeking.

Perdigon declined to say whether those additional questions would be on the agenda.

Culverhouse predicted that the vote on the admission of women would be close.

"I've been told it could go either way," she said.

If the move to admit women is rejected, Culverhouse said she would sue.

"'Why shouldn't I?" she asked. "If they vote no to women, there's no way I could be quiet, pick up my jacks and go home."

Palma Ceia is the last of Tampa's four most socially prominent private clubs to face questions about restrictive membership rules.

The University Club, once an all-male preserve, was the first to admit blacks and women. Black pirates marched this year for the first time with Ye Mystic Krewe in the Gasparilla parade, although women still are barred.

Last month, the Tampa Yacht Club accepted its first black family. The Yacht Club agreed last spring to admit women as full members _ the same question now facing Palma Ceia.

Even if Palma Ceia says yes to women, the club on S MacDill Avenue could face further criticism. Although the club does not bar blacks, it has no black members. Only last year was a black man permitted to play on the golf course.

Culverhouse says she would not automatically have use of the Bucs' corporate membership, even if women are admitted to Palma Ceia. She would have to be nominated by two members and then ratified by the club's membership committee.

She said she has received calls from club members or their wives telling her she would be rejected.

"'I wouldn't be surprised if I got blackballed . . . since I created so much trouble," Culverhouse said. "There are some people who are very mad with me."