It hasn't been easy for Brentsville High School to rise to the top of Group A golf. But it has been quick. Only two years ago Brentsville participated in golf as a varsity sport for the first time. Now, in their third season of competition, the Tigers are trying to repeat as Group A state champions.

In addition to plenty of practice swings and hours upon hours on the links, it pays to have friends in the right places. In this case, it's the Prince William Public Golf Course.

"The fact that Prince William Public Golf Course has been so generous and to have the opportunity to work and play there {has been a key to the success}," said Brentsville Coach Jim Bower. "{Course professional} Mark Guttenberg has provided them with teaching and playing at a reduced rate and there's no doubt that has contributed tremendously."

But Guttenberg, who has been the director of golf instruction at the course for three years, hesitates to take credit. "I'm not their coach and I don't work with them on a daily basis," he said. "But if they're really serious about golf and they have any questions, that's what we're there for."

The Tigers began competing three years ago as an unofficial club team. However, with several of the team members living very near and working at the Prince William Course, golf was not a foreign endeavor. And the time spent on the links paid off almost immediately as in its first year Brentsville won the Bull Run District and Region B titles before placing second in the Group A state tournament.

"You have a small core of guys that are interested in golf and they have the opportunity to be employed at the golf course and that really motivates them to become involved in the sport," said Guttenberg.

Last season the Tigers defeated 28 other Group A schools to claim the state crown.

"My goal was to get the whole team to regionals. Then, not knowing anything, my goal was to get the top three to the states," said Bower. "After nine holes {in the region tourney} I found we're in second -- place only 10 strokes out. Then I changed my approach."

The Tigers top three players shot six over par for the back nine to clinch the regional title. Continuing their hot play in the state tournament, Tigers Tommy McManus and Darin Snoots placed first and third, respectively, as Brentsville took a 15-stroke lead after the first day before winning the title by 26 strokes over West Point.

This year the success continues. The Tigers have yet to lose in four Bull Run District contests, the closest margin of victory being 10 strokes. The Tigers have lost two matches to Group AAA schools Fauquier and Stonewall Jackson, but that doesn't discourage Bower from scheduling the much larger schools.

"I play as many {Group} AAA schools as I can. I always try to play against better competition," said Bower. "We play at their courses -- the more different courses we play the better we are."

As for the Tigers, they don't come any better than senior Darin Snoots. The 6-foot-3, lefthanded senior qualified for the regionals in 1986, the year the school participated as a club team. And despite having played golf for only four years, Bower calls Snoots "absolutely" the best player he has coached.

"Number one he's just got the natural ability. He also has a golf attitude. If he hits a bad shot he just picks his bag up and walks to the next shot to see what he has," said Bower. {Bad play} doesn't bother him."

Snoots, who carries a three handicap, plays golf about eight hours a day in the summer and was a regular at area tournaments. He was a quarterfinalist at the prestigiuos Bobby Bowers Tournament and won the Metro Area PGA Pro-Junior Championship at Montclair Country Club. Last year Snoots won district championship and his second regional title.

"Darin has a lot of talent. He's got great touch on his irons and a very good short game," said Guttenberg, who has spent many hours working with Snoots. "His ball striking is improved and he has great composure."

And, it's partly because of Snoots's success that golf is becoming a tradition at the small Nokesville school. "A couple of years ago everybody was like, 'We have a golf team?' But now a few more people have caught on and more people are really interested," said Snoots.

Snoots has his eyes on an individual state championship this fall and, though his graduation will leave a tough hole to fill, the only other senior in the Tigers' top six is number two Mike Cook. Numbers three through seven -- Kevin Bailey, Robbie Lapihuska, Steve Cook, Keith Ludeman and Graham Perry -- are juniors. And there's more players on the rise.

"We have three eighth graders coming up that are interested {in playing} so {the program} should carry through," said Snoots. "I hope so."

And Guttenberg feels that the player's progress will continue to genereate interest. "They are at that age where they start to grow and they see they can hit the ball farther. That motivates them {to continue playing}."