Hollywood stars routinely sport jeans on the red carpet. President Obama and White House staffers occasionally wear denim in the Oval Office.
But if you want to stay out of the local police blotter, don’t even think about wearing jeans into the clubhouse at posh Weston Golf Club.
What began on a Saturday night in September as an attempt by the Weston GC president to enforce the dress code among a large group of members and guests having drinks in the clubhouse bar escalated into a scene fit for reality television. The resulting verbal altercation was so intense police were called to defuse the situation.
The club’s directors conducted an investigation into alleged dress code violations with all the seriousness of a grand jury, eventually handing out three-month suspensions to 10 members. The uproar triggered such a backlash the president resigned.
The episode offers a window into the culture of private clubs, where decorum and etiquette are essential to a sense of sanctuary. Expectations of refinement and civility are codified in rules that govern seemingly every aspect of behavior, from dress, to language, to personal comportment.
An invitation-only club set on 104 wooded acres, Weston GC charges a $45,000 initiation fee — about the midrange for such clubs — and features a membership of wealthy, powerful executives. The club is so protective of its privacy that two years ago it hired a police detail to keep cyclists off the picturesque private road it shares with several dozen residential properties.
And like other private clubs, Weston GC has an extensive dress code policy, with a ban on denim at the top of the list of forbidden clothing. Whether $50 dungarees or $200 designer jeans, blue denim of any kind is forbidden. The one exception: female members can wear “neat, not torn, white denim.”
It’s unclear what kind of denim people in the group were wearing that September night, but as Stephen and Charlotte Weeple walked toward the clubhouse around 10:45 p.m, they were intercepted by club president Tom Ferry. The Weeples are not members but they and other guests were meeting Weston GC members for a nightcap in the clubhouse bar.
Ferry believed the Weeples were in violation of the dress code and used profane language to tell them jeans are not allowed on the grounds, according to a letter the couple wrote to the club’s directors.
Charlotte Weeple declined to comment, but in her letter to the board, obtained by The Boston Globe, she said she thought Ferry was joking until he called her derogatory names, igniting an animated shouting match between her husband and Ferry.
At 10:58, Weston police received a 911 call reporting a fist fight in progress.
“When I arrived, I observed two men . . . engaged in a loud, verbal argument,” patrolman Joseph Kozowyk wrote in his report, noting that “neither man had any signs of a physical altercation.”
The incident broke up when the Weeples left Weston GC without joining their friends inside.
Afterward, though, Charlotte Weeple complained to the club’s directors about her treatment and insisted that neither she nor her husband was wearing jeans. Moreover, Weeple bristled at the implication she did not know the rules of proper attire.
“Having grown up and spent much of my life in golf clubs around Scotland and officers’ clubs in the military, I am fully aware and respectful of dress code and etiquette,” Weeple wrote.
Within days of the incident Ferry volunteered to take a one-month suspension. But after a number of other members organized a petition calling for a clubwide meeting, Ferry resigned as president in early November. He issued a contrite statement to the Globe in which he apologized for his behavior that night.
“I am sorry that the ongoing discord over enforcement of the club’s policies has reached such an embarrassing level,” said Ferry, who is chief executive of Curaspan Health Group Inc., a Newton software company. “Most importantly I wish to repeat publicly the apology I gave to the people with whom I interacted outside of the club that night. It was wrong of me to have spoken that way, I have no excuse, and I sincerely regret having done so.”
Meanwhile, the Weston GC directors began their own investigation a week after the incident, having learned that others in the group the Weeples planned to join, including club members, also were wearing jeans that night. The board sought interviews with eight couples and subsequently suspended five couples for three months, for either wearing jeans or being involved in dress code violations.
The 10 members still owe club fees during their suspension.
In a letter they wrote to the club’s board, obtained by the Globe, the five couples said, “we are sorry and apologize if we did not adequately convey our remorse in our interviews.”
“One thing we can promise you is that this group does not lack integrity,” they added. “We are all parents of young children (15 in total) and you can be sure that conversations concerning the imperativeness of kindness, truthfulness, respect, honesty, humility and accountability fill our homes each day.”
All five couples declined interview requests or did not respond to messages seeking comment.
The club did hold a general membership meeting in early November, but by then Ferry had resigned and temperatures inside the clubhouse had cooled. The directors also have not made any changes to the club’s dress code, or their disciplinary measures, as a result of the meeting.
Through a spokeswoman, Weston GC acknowledged that “an effort to enforce club rules got out of hand” but defended the purpose of regulations on attire.
“The dress code is meant to encourage people to present themselves in ways that engender pride in the club,” said the spokeswoman, Karen Schwartzman.