SOMETHING approaching 200,000 rounds of golf are played on Howard County's nine courses during a normal (more on that word in a moment) year, which is a lot of golf.
But no one can legitimately claim to be the county's best player, male or female. That's because, though several club championships are decided annually, those who should know can't recall a countywide tournament to establish broader supremacy.
That's about to change. The first Howard County Amateur Golf Championship has been scheduled for next month by the Department of Recreation and Parks at its Timbers at Troy Golf Course in Elkridge.
It'll be a weekend affair - Oct. 11 and 12 - with men's and women's winners to be determined in the way that is simplest for everyone to understand: The lowest score for 36 holes, with 18 played each day, wins.
The tournament will produce two bona fide county champions, for only Howard County residents are eligible to participate.
The department circulated brochures to all county courses last week, hoping that at least 100 golfers enter, said Kyle Warfield, Timbers' head pro and general manager. Entry forms also can be obtained from the golf course's Web site, www. timbersgolf.com.
"We're not sure how many to expect," Warfield said, adding that, especially if enough women sign up, that 100 figure could grow as high as 120 and still be accommodated.
"I think we're going to see a number of players with handicaps in the 10-and-under range." That means the tournament will not prove a comforting place for high-handicap or infrequent golfers.
The format will provide different challenges each day, in addition to Timbers' normal array of brush, shrub and wet environmental teasers. On Saturday, Warfield said, men will use the course's blue tees, meaning a total length of about 6,200 yards.
On Sunday, however, the men will move back to the black tees, creating a course of 6,650 yards. Women will use the red tees (about 4,900 yards) each day.
After Saturday's rounds, finishers will be "flighted," or grouped, according to the lowest scores, with 16 men and 16 women (or a few more if there are ties) making up Sunday's championship flights from which titlists will emerge. Those with higher scores will compete Sunday in other flights with players of comparable results.
"We've been talking about having this kind of tournament for a while, but we just decided to do it this year," said rec and parks Director Gary J. Arthur. "I just hope people don't shy away from entering."
The entry fee is $125, covering greens fees for both days, a Sunday cookout and prizes that will include not only bragging rights for a year, but also about $300 in Timbers pro shop credit, a trophy and winners' names put on a new plaque that will be amended with future champions.
Players must be 16 or older and can use carts, but that fee will be extra. Players also may use caddies at their own expense. Cutoff for entering: 5 p.m. Oct. 3, no exceptions or excuses.
FOOTNOTE: All mid-Atlantic golf courses have seen sharp decreases in play this year, and Timbers is no different.
Arthur said that for fiscal 2003, which ended June 30, snow, rain or wet conditions kept the county's course closed 92 days. That compares with 14 such days in the good, ol' "normal" but drought-plagued days of fiscal 2001.
Roughly, he said, that meant about 40,000 rounds were played in fiscal 2003, about 10,000 fewer than in the preceding year. And with the average player paying $25 in fees per round, that meant a soggy $250,000 lost.
The Elkridge Youth Organization, which operates year-round with soccer, basketball, baseball and softball programs, has openings for its third annual Kurt L. Metzler Memorial Golf Tournament.
The fund-raiser, named for a late EYO soccer coach and roofer who died in a work-related accident, is to be played Sept. 15 at West Winds Golf Club in New Market.
"Kurt was taken from us suddenly three years ago," says a tournament brochure. "His motto was always what was best for the kids. His spirit lives within all the volunteers that make up EYO."
The cost is $85 for an individual, $340 for a foursome. Other info: John Fioretti, 410-379-5422; or online at www.eyosports.org.
Call the writer at 410-332- 6525 or send e-mail to lowell. firstname.lastname@example.org.