A club that’s come far

Years ago I sat at the dais of a yacht club as that night’s speaker. Next to me was the club’s commodore, a 70-something fellow with wispy white hair, a well-fed belly and clad in an impeccable white maritime blazer replete with a blue ascot.

Really classy dude, right? Well, not quite so.

Looking at the others at the head table and in the audience, I noticed the absence of women. “Excuse me,” I whispered to the commodore, “is this men’s night?”

The old fellow acted like I’d just goosed him with a candy cane. After an awkward silence, he stammered, “Women aren’t allowed in our club.”

“Why not?” I asked. Thrown off by my query, he offered a rambling reply through tight lips about the right of people to choose with whom they associate and the sacrosanct appeal to the club’s members. Resisting the temptation to argue or bail on my speech, I went through with it albeit without a great deal of enthusiasm. As I drove away, I mused about how that type of small-minded and archaic attitude still exists.

Maybe that’s why I rejoiced when happening upon the website of the Clearwater Yacht Club (CYC). The group has history enough, to be sure, being established in 1911, but their outlook on inclusion of the fair sex in their organization belies any throwback to excluding people on the basis of sex, race, religion and such. In fact, CYC’s commodore is Tish Wold, a U.S. Naval Academy grad.

Wold and her husband wanted to find a club environment after finishing their stints in the Navy. “We didn’t want a stuffy or snobbish atmosphere,” she said, “so we checked out the Clearwater Yacht Club and really liked it.”

Her credo is that an organization worth joining deserves time and effort. Wold began in a secretarial capacity at the club and soon took interest in various committees. Before long she moved up the ranks from rear commodore to vice commodore and now to commodore. Following this year, her title changes to immediate past commodore.

But Wold isn’t a trailblazer at CYC – she’s actually the third female commodore, revealing the club’s long-term recognition of non-stodgy inclusion.

General Manager Tom Brusini showed me around the facilities and explained some of the club’s history when I dropped by the two-story property on Clearwater Beach. The 380 members enjoy amenities one might expect of a first-class private club: restaurant with chef and dining staff, grill and lounge, tiki bar and patio deck, conference room, large heated (and chilled!) pool and, of course, slips for yachts – 34 of them.

“You don’t have to own a boat to be a member,” Brusini advised. “We have social memberships as well as full memberships. It’s interesting to note that the average age of our members has become younger in recent years due to our welcoming more family participation.”

CYC hosts wedding receptions, private parties and offers catering services. During the summer, the club sponsors a youth sailing program – two former kids from the club became Olympians in the sailing competition, with one of them winning the silver medal in 2008. Safe boating courses are given. An annual charity event that’s raised $75,000 over the years for the Upper Pinellas Association of Retarded Citizens brings those citizens to the club for an afternoon of food and entertainment.

The online monthly schedule of events reveals that CYC is active and dynamic. Golf outings, sailing regattas, card games and themed parties galore take place for the Super Bowl and all the holidays. Formal and informal galas, luaus, balls, and featured buffets and dinners are held regularly.

“My greatest satisfaction in being a CYC member is that it’s like a second home,” Wold said. “Everyone is very welcoming and friendly, and our mix of members and their life stories fascinate me – there’s even a lady who was a World War II pilot.”

Check out the Clearwater Yacht Club at 830 South Bayway Boulevard, Clearwater Beach, (727) 447-6000,

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