Society in a tizzy over course behavior

Piedmont Driving Club investigating lewd behavior following complaints

On Tuesday, the club sent a letter to every member of the exclusive haven, singled out in Tom Wolfe’s “A Man in Full” as the definitive barometer of social status in Atlanta. The letter said club leadership is investigating “inappropriate behavior” reported during a recent golf tournament at the club’s south Fulton course. Its main location is in Midtown.

“[W]e are deeply disappointed in the actions of a few members,” said the letter, which said the club has fined and suspended some individuals over the matter and will investigate further.

“We intend to sanction decisively any other inappropriate behavior that we can verify,” said the letter. “...It is a privilege to be a member of the driving club and none of us should tolerate inappropriate behavior and poor judgment. These types of incidents must never happen again.”

The issue came to light a few weeks ago when a disgusted member wrote the organization’s president.

The complainant, a prominent local attorney, laid out an array of alleged acts that included public urination, nude golfing and a trick involving a naked posterior and a poor golf ball that didn’t deserve its fate. It’s a safe bet the correspondence was the first the club ever received that contained the words “butt cheeks.”

The author, who’s on vacation and could not be reached for comment, may as well have hired a skywriter.

The private communique promptly went viral, prompting the club whose website says next to nothing about itself to bring in a PR guy to handle inquiries about the loutish antics. Even he didn’t want to be quoted.

Blogs posted in recent days on ajc.com about the matter generated hundreds of comments, many from observers crowing over lowbrow behavior at the prestigious club, some clearly from members or insiders. But no one wants to talk publicly about the story everyone is talking about.

“I have friends and family at the club,” said one member, who spoke only when guaranteed anonymity. “If I talked, I’d get run out.”

So, just what did happen last month at the club’s annual member-member golf tournament?

Here’s an inventory spelled out in the outraged member’s letter:

● Playing nude. With a lawyer’s precision, the letter writer noted that one member is alleged to have dropped duds on the 14th green.

● Urinating on the greens, reportedly in the presence of a female caddy. The offenders? Male. (Are you surprised?)

● Trying to pick up a golf ball with bare fanny cheeks. One golfer, no doubt showcasing talents honed during fraternity pledge hazing, attempted this.

● Aiming shots at other golfers.

● Doing a drunken face-plant on a grill, which, happily, wasn’t lit. What followed involved an unzipped fly and a stunning lack of modesty.

● Cursing so loudly that a diner at a nearby wedding rehearsal dinner asked the offenders to turn down the volume. Their response cannot be printed. Suffice to say that they told the complainant to do something that’s physically impossible.

● “Mooning” those same dinner guests.

Club leaders declined to comment. Their letter urged members to do the same.

“[T]he board views this unfortunate circumstance as a private matter and hopes that you will act accordingly,” said the letter. “We currently have a policy not to disclose publicly the names of those who have been disciplined.”

Members have taken this advice to heart. These days, Oakland Cemetery’s mausoleum residents are about as forthcoming as the members of the Piedmont Driving Club – some of whom, no doubt, are headed there one day.

The driving club, founded in 1887, is nearly as old as the cemetery, established in 1850. The organization is a grand reminder of the Gilded Age, when a still-young nation shook off the Civil War and embraced a rich future. Membership is invitation-only and not cheap — reportedly $90,000 just for the initiation fees — but it does have privileges.

Sitting in the club’s ornate ballroom at its main Midtown location is sort of like relaxing inside the top tier of a giant wedding cake. Guests sit in golden-backed chairs under elegantly soaring arches, a latticed balcony at the back of the room. The peach and ivory room glows in the light of chandeliers.

Diners in the Park Room enjoy a vista of Piedmont Park that includes a long slice of lawn bounded by trees and, beyond, downtown’s granite and concrete spires.

And yet it’s not stuffy. Waiters bring the simplest of treats — butter-soaked saltine crackers — to each table. The women’s room features cans of Aqua Net hairspray and cherry-scented Jergens lotion at each vanity.

The club’s amenities include a pool, a fitness center and the golf course, located off Camp Creek Parkway not far from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

The AJC has been in contact with about a half-dozen members. Not one would speak on the record. One urged reporters to keep asking questions — but not to direct any his/her way for fear “of getting kicked out.”

The club’s reputation has taken an unfair hit, others said.

“You get the idea that they’re all some rich, entitled drunks, and that’s not true,” said a Piedmont Driving Club regular who belongs to a different club. “This was just a few people misbehaving, being stupid and acting like jerks.”

Alcohol seems to bring out the inner bozo in some members, noted one anonymous correspondent who has several relatives on the club roster.

“Drunk idiots at club functions are not rare no matter what club you visit,” he wrote in an email to the AJC.

Yet another relied on the words of the late golfing writer Herbert Warren Wind to frame her feelings about the late unpleasantness.

‘“[G]olf provides a small world where the standards are civilized,’” she quoted in an email, “‘where people are frequently at their best and, at times, the true strain of poetry which all of us seem to need in our lives.’”

Former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell, president of the Buckhead Coalition, is usually happy to talk about most any topic. Not this one.

He’s not a member of the club, but knows many. He heard reports about the unseemly behavior during a regular gathering at “Club Mac” — his name for the Buckhead McDonald’s.

“I’d be run out of town” for talking about the Piedmont Driving Club, he said, “and I’m not ready to leave yet.”

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