ONCE UPON A TIME, WAY BACK IN THE EARLY '70s, three College Park friends stopped to play a round of miniature golf, celebrating the coming of summer and the end of seventh grade at Buck Lodge Junior High. That first School Closing Open, as it came to be called, didn't seem historically significant to Dave Farrow, Larry Kirsch and Cliff Lawhorn. How could they know it would grow from three into a crowd, continuing from their wonder years until they were thirtysomething?

They've played their annual miniature golf match as they graduated from High Point High School, finished various higher education endeavors, got jobs, got married, had babies and more. It has been 20 years, and still they meet, the group gladly expanding for new friends, spouses, in-laws and family additions. "I feel old, but wow -- it's neat to be doing this for 20 years," says Farrow.

More than 100 people played in the 19th School Closing Open at Monte Golf in College Park last year. The record, 186 entries, was set in the open's 15th year. A new record is hoped for at the 20th tournament on the 36-hole course next weekend. Kirsch, alas, is not expected to be among the players, as he has recently moved to San Diego. "But you never know," he says by phone. "I may try to swing in for it."

Invitations to last year's School Closing Open included instructions to wear a hat. Everyone did so. The rest of the attire being optional, some chose colorful options. Brian DelGrosso and Mike Hayes, to whom Kirsch gives much credit for sustaining the event, greeted arrivals formally, wearing pastel tuxedo jackets and ruffled shirts with matching shorts and socks.

"It's a unique time," says Lawhorn. "The best thing is getting to see people once a year. I've known some of them since we were in the fifth grade."

Talk takes precedence over scores as friendships are renewed and news is exchanged from green to green. In a competition less fierce than the conversation, someone eventually wins, but no one loses. The celebration continues long after scores are tallied. Participants are required to live happily ever after and to show up next year.