When Frank Emmet says he has seen area junior golfers come and go, believe it.

Emmet, 78, is beginning his second half-century as "commissioner" of the crack area junior golf program. During winter, he coordinates golf schedules for spring high-school matches and summer tournaments. He personally oversees the events, darting around on a golf cart, making rulings and bemoaning his pet peeve, slow play.

Emmet has watched over the great ones in their youth - the Nicklauses and Palmers - but best of all has made room for the thousands of other boys and girls in his "off the streets and on the fairways" juniors program since he and his uncle had an idea in 1925.

He remembers it like yesterday. "My uncle, Father Emmet [who was president of Georgetown Prep School], suggested we build a golf course on the 93 acres there. I was business manager. The workmen at the school did the whole thing with no outside help, and the course still remains."

Emmet sent letter's to all high schools within 200 miles and got "quite a response. One time 15 boys came from Annapolis High and we matched up with 15 of our boys. That was the start of junior golf around here."

The program has grown to the point that now 125 schools compete. In summer there are tournaments galore. "Oh, there may be one or two free days from the close of school to Labor Day," Emmet said.

Running the juniors is Emmet's beloved avocation. He still works in the wholesale paper business, traveling to Landover several times a week.

Area courses allow Emmet-run tournaments to operate free of charge. "It's a real tribute to the boys. They have been well-behaved over the years, and the clubs have responded."

Emmet has never been paid for his work in golf, not for the bundles of paperwork, the processing of entries or the answering of the ceaselessly ringing telephone at his home on Williams Lane in Chevy Chase. He considers the bill paid in full, however.

"I get the satisfaction of getting of nice letter from one of the boys, or having the parents come up and thank me and the satisfaction of hearing from a boy after he has been to college. We're not grooming them for the profession of golf. We really are grooming them for business and a good life. I think the boys realizes how lucky they are. When I go around the country, people are amazed what the clubs here do for the boys," he said.

"Appreciative is one word for him," said Jack Skilling, a junior star who next fall will be off to either North Carolina or Stanford on a golf scholarship. "What Mr. Emmet breeds is sportmanship. That's what he wants to see in all of us and that's what he gets. It works. It's a classy program. I was very glad to be a part of it. It sure helped my golf game," said Skilling, who won the Chevy Chase Club men's golf championship at age 14.

Emmet sees evidence of golf's benefits. "Golf brings out the real good qualities of man. It's a game where they play by the rules and call penalties on themselves. It develops character. If you run into a punk, you find out quickly about him on a golf course."

Emmet keeps scrapbooks of the exploits of his juniors and has donated seven ("about a hundred pounds each") to the Golf Hall of Fame in Pinehurst, N.C.

The scrapbooks, plus Emmet's uncanny memory, produce a goldmine of lore. He remembers that Deane Beman - one of his prize pupils, who played out of Bethesda Country Club, and who is now Commissioner of the Professional Golfers Association Tour - turned in a score of 125 strokes his first time out. Before he outgrew the juniors, Beman scored in the 60s often. Beman went on to win the British and U.S. Amateurs and two PGA events.

Emmet also remembers Arnold Palmer, the man many say is responsible for golf's surge in popularity, the man who communicated golf to the masses. "He didn't have a stylist's swing," said Emmet, "but he could power the ball."

Palmer played No. 2 behind Beman at Wake Forest. Bubby Worsham, Palmer's roommate there, died in an auto accident and a memorial tournament was established at Bethesda. Palmer won the inaugural.

"Palmer was really broken up. That changed his life. He quit school right after that and went into a period of deep thinking," Emmet recalled. "That was one of the turning points of his life. He became more dedicated. He has always followed our junior program here. He keeps in touch with us."

When a downright obese youth named Jack Nicklaus came to play in the National Junior at Manor on Georgia Avenue, Emmet remembers he had just previously won the Ohio State Open. He lost in the quarterfinals at Manor. Who beat him? No hesitation: "Chip Beck."

"They used to say Nicklaus couldn't putt," said Emmet. "But today I'd rather have him stand over a big putt than anybody."

Emmet used to play golf, and cut his handicap to eight at one point, but gave it about 15 years ago: too time-consuming.

Emmet always expected golf to boom. "Today you have television bringing it to everybody. These great professionals show how exciting it can be."

Last year Emmet was nominated for induction in the Golf Hall of Fame in the Distinguished Service category. He did not make it. Perhaps some day.

He says the fun of his whole program is "making up the schedule in the winter months and thinking of the green fairways of May and June."

The soft-spoken, white-haired Emmet has made the fairways wide for many.