Stephanie Novak Hau is "at most a once-a-month golfer" who admits to a tendency to embarrass herself when she plays, but fairways and greens are as big in her life as in Nancy Lopez's or Amy Alcott's.
And she may have done more to improve many a Maryland golfer's game than all the pros, though few would recognize her name.
A hydrogeologist and president of Chesapeake Environmental Management Inc., Ms. Hau does work on golf courses that everybody sees but nobody notices.
Long before architects and designers begin to lay out the course, she pores over aerial maps to find water sources that will keep the grass green. She walks the land in search of endangered species and legally protected wetlands that might complicate the job of getting government permits. She lays out land-management plans to hold down the amounts of fertilizer and pesticide needed to keep the courses in playable condition.
With more than 20 golf courses on her client list only two years after she and husband Joseph A. Hau opened Chesapeake Environmental in a small office in Bel Air, Ms. Hau, 33, already has moved to bigger quarters and then expanded into an adjoining office to house a staff that has grown from "just the two of us" to seven.
She thinks her business has plenty of room to go on growing.
"This metropolitan area ranks 135th in the number of public golf courses out of 200 metropolitan areas in the country, and local economic development offices like those in Baltimore and Howard counties believe golfing availability is a factor in attracting businesses, so there's not much doubt about the desire to build more golf courses around here," she said.
Not everyone loves golf courses, which often run into vehement protests from neighborhood and preservation groups.
But many of the issues these objectors raise are right on Chesapeake Environmental's turf, so the protests only make the company's services more valuable to golf course developers.
Ms. Hau has become sought-after as an expert witness whose testimony often takes the sting out of objections raised at public hearings on proposed golf courses.
It was her testimony that Baltimore County Zoning Commissioner Laurence E. Schmidt relied on in July when he dismissed neighbors' protests that a 226-acre golf course proposed for the Hayfields farm in northern Baltimore County would dangerously deplete the water supplied to area homes by the fragile Cockeysville Marble aquifer.
"It's not enough just to know the science -- she knows how to reduce very complicated and obscure technical issues to language the officials and often even the objectors can get comfortable with, and still maintain the technical integrity of her presentation," said Robert Dalrymple, a lawyer who has worked with her on permits for two golf courses in Montgomery County.
"The first time we worked with her, in 1993 on the Four Streams golf course project, the zoning commissioner said it was the clearest and most professional presentation of scientific evidence he'd ever seen."
Ms. Hau didn't set out to become an expert on golf courses, but she did know the outlines of her career path earlier in life than most people do.
As a fifth-grader at Bryn Mawr School, she was swept up by outdoor activities and environmental issues she encountered on a five-day school camping trip to the Eastern Shore.
"That trip turned me on to the issues, and from then I always knew I wanted to do things that would keep me outdoors much of the time," she said.
"When I was looking for a college, I fell in love with the environmental studies program at Allegheny College and with Samuel Harrison, the head of the program," she said.
After graduating from Allegheny in 1984 with a degree in geology, she went on to get a master's degree from Kent State University, which was pioneering in the then-new field of hydrogeology.
At Kent State she met a fellow student from Iowa who became her husband and vice president of Chesapeake Environmental.