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Request for collars generates a debate

Tarpon Springs wanted only to raise the prestige of its golf course, but some - including the mayor - say a dress code is too restrictive.

Published December 28, 2005

TARPON SPRINGS - The perennial collared shirt is nothing if not safe.

At least that was what city staffers thought when they suggested requiring them at the Tarpon Springs City Golf Course.

But what began as a modest proposal to bolster revenue and the reputation of the city-owned course turned into grist for a debate over gender, class and high fashion at last week's City Commission meeting.

The first to register her reservations was Mayor Beverley Billiris. The rule, she pointed out, would preclude her from wearing much of her own golfing wardrobe, the product of recent trends toward V neck and scoop neck tops.

"It's still a golf shirt even if it doesn't have a collar," she said.

Discouraging designer fashions was not the purpose, said John Cruz, the city's public services director.

"If it pleases the board, we can add extra verbiage to address women's attire," he said, explaining that the intent was to crack down on men in the habit of golfing shirtless, in undershirts or in other "improper" apparel.

"Wife beater," said someone in the bleary-eyed group of people who remained at the meeting for the late-hour item.

The comment drew some laughs but also a litany of concerns from the commissioners.

Who would decide what constituted "proper" golf attire? Was it right for the city to tell people what they ought to wear to play a sport?

Why exempt only women? After all, wasn't Tiger Woods known for wearing noncollared shirts?

City Manager Ellen Posivach stepped in to explain.

This was not a gratuitous attack on collarless shirts, she said. The proposal was part of the city's decadelong effort to restore the golf course from the disrepair it had fallen into after years of private management, she said.

After pouring hundreds of thousands of public dollars into upgrades, the city has finally begun to see revenue from the golf course. Memberships at $900, or $1,350 per couple, have sold out. Greens fees per game range from $11 to $38, depending on the number of holes played.

As the city course began to compete with nearby golf courses, Posivach said, increasingly more people, especially members, began complaining about a lack of protocol that slowed the pace of play.

City staffers decided to survey six competing golf courses in the area - private, public and city-owned - about how to improve the caliber of the course.

The dress code, they found, was key. Tarpon Spring's present policy - no cutoffs, bathing suits or tank tops - was the least restrictive of all. Except for one other, each required collared shirts. Many prohibited denim.

Posivach, a nongolfer, said staffers took an incremental approach. They rejected a ban on jeans and a requirement of soft-spike shoes, deciding instead to begin with a baby step: collars.

"It's a real protocol," she said. "It defines the quality of the course."

The commission sidestepped the issue in the end. Members approved several staffing and fee changes to the golf course but dropped the dress code amendment.

Last week, the reaction on the golf course was split, even between members of a foursome with a 1:44 p.m. tee time.

Collared shirts would be a welcome addition to the dress code for Manuel Manousos and Grover Carawan, two Tarpon Springs residents who were wearing collared shirts. But Mike Culligan Sr. and Jr., a father-son pair from Holiday, took issue with the soundness of the proposal. Both Culligans were sporting long-sleeved T-shirts.

"Do you ever see Tiger Woods? He doesn't wear a collared shirt," Culligan Sr. said.

Chuck Winship, the golf course's manager, said, "Collars are the tradition. And I hate to say that, but we don't have that many people who come here in $50 or $60 golf shirts."

And, he added, "Tiger Woods doesn't play here that often."

[Last modified December 28, 2005, 01:00:24]

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