Donald Dunn remembers weekends in the late 1960s when he and his buddies would get up before dawn to assure themselves time on the Allview public golf course outside Ellicott City.

"We would get there between 4:30 and 5 in the morning and put our balls in the rack to get a place in line," Dunn said. "I remember looking out on the horizon and seeing the twinkling lights where they were building a new course in Columbia and telling my friends, 'It won't be long before we won't have to do this any more.' "

Dunn now knows how wrong he was. The 62-year-old vice president for a machinery company still is not guaranteed tee time, even though he is president of the golf committee at that Columbia course, called Hobbit's Glen.

"If anything, it is tougher to play golf in Howard County these days than back then," Dunn said.

Allview, which was near the intersection of Routes 108 and 29, closed in 1985 to make way for a housing development. The same fate met the Greencastle course off Route 29 in Burtonsville just inside Montgomery County. Howard County golfers also lost use of Fawn Hill, a par 3 course outside Ellicott City on Route 40.

Today, the county only has two courses -- neither of which is public: Hobbit's Glen in Columbia and Turf Valley off Route 40 west of Ellicott City.

"The demand is so bad it's pathetic," Dunn said.

Not only has the county grown in population, but the average age of the population is growing older, two trends that usually increase the demand for golf, said Bob Bellamy, director of club operations for the Columbia Association, which operates Hobbit's Glen.

"There's a big void in this area. If you look at a map that has golf courses delineated on it, you see how bad it is," Bellamy said.

The dearth of courses has captured the attention of public officials and private developers.

The county hopes to build two public courses in the next few years. One is slated to open within three years on 75 acres near Interstate 95 and the proposed extension of Route 100. The other proposed site is in the Marriottsville area near Interstate 70.

Money to build the public courses would come from industrial revenue bonds and state Program Open Space funds.

Meanwhile, developers have talked about building as many as three other courses in the county, said Robert Vogel, assistant county administrator. The most recent proposal is from Donald R. Reuwer, president of Land Design Development Inc. He has recommended putting a public course along Route 32 near Pfefferkorn Road in exchange for zoning concessions.

Builders have found that prospective homeowners don't have to be golfers to want to live near a golf course.

"Some people like to live near the open space, while others want to take advantage of the prestige that's been noted for backing onto a golf course," said Charles Lewis, sales director of a Ryland town house project next to Hobbit's Glen.

Being next to a golf course "has not hurt us in the marketing here," Lewis said.

Until new courses are built, area golfers make the best of living in a county with few greens.

"This is about as good as it gets around here," Jack Thompson said as he carried a few woods and irons onto a driving range off Route 29 near the Rocky Gorge reservoir.

"I get my best golf in when I'm on vacation. Fortunately, my wife's family lives in Rochester {N.Y.}, and the place is crawling with courses. It makes the visit to the in-laws worthwhile," Thompson said.

Sirlester Griffin said he is lucky he doesn't need to find a public course in the area.

"Most of us are ex-military or retired military. And we can go to Fort Meade. I don't know where everyone else goes around here," Griffin said.