There's a war of attrition going on in Rock Creek Park, and it isn't between the squirrels and the fish. Worse. It's between the golf establishment and a bunch of self-described good old boys who like to play a little gin runny for money.

"Used to play" might soon be a little more accurate, since Severine Leoffler Jr. laid down the law 10 days ago. Leoffler, who operates Rock Creek Golf Course under a concession granted by the National Park Service, told Dick Roberts of Rockville and his three friends they could no longer play gin rummy on the benches near the first tee, even though they had done so almost every weekday for the last 15 years.

Leoffler says it was the third time in the last year he has delivered such an edict to the gin players. Not only is gambling illegal on national parkland, he points out, but the presence of card players might be harming his golf business.

"We're trying to get a lot more women and children playing here than ever before," Leoffler says. "What do you think they're going to think if they're heading out to the first tee and they hear bad language and fights from a bunch of men in a card game?

"I'm not saying these men are rowdy. But I'm a card player myself, and bad language and loud voices are part of the game."

Dick Roberts points out that gambling is part of another game. It's called golf.

"If they cut out gambling on the Rock Creek course, there wouldn't be a soul out there," he points out. "We don't make a nuisance of ourselves. You'd have to play all day long to win or lose $5 at the stakes we're playing. Who are they trying to kid?"

Certainly not Georgia Ellard, assistant superintendent of Rock Creek Park.

"Park Service policy is that there will be no gambling in any park area," she said. The Park Service "certainly expects Mr. Leoffler to uphold our policy," Ellard said.

But Dick Roberts is 80 years old, and most of his cronies are around that plateau themselves. Roberts points out that, when you've been around that long, you know when you're causing real harm and when you're not. "And I'm here to tell you, we're not."

"all we want to do is to sit outside in the sun the kill a little time in a pleasant environment," Roberts said. But since the Leoffler edict, the game has moved to the back seat of Robert's car. "It loses something," Roberts says.

Leoffler vows that even gin in the back seat of a car is too much for him. "I won't have it," he says.

So a bunch of octogenarians may be heading for jail over a bunch of queens and jacks. That would be unfortunate and silly, in about equal amounts. But both sides are firm. Stay tuned.