After a round of golf two weeks ago, Patrick Sweeney headed home to Arlington and tossed his bag in the back of his car without a second thought. Until the next morning, that is, when he saw the smashed-out back window on his 1991 Range Rover and realized his $3,200 Callaway titanium clubs were missing.

"I was surprised more than anything," Sweeney, 32, a commercial real estate consultant, said yesterday. "We live on a sleepy little cul-de-sac in North Arlington. You should be able to leave something of value in your car and not [have] to think about it."

Fore-get about it, say police.

Golfers are hearing the tinkle of breaking glass across the Washington region. Although thieves have always had a thing for golf clubs, they have been helped along by the popularity of sport utility vehicles, which typically don't have trunks, making golf bags easier to spot.

"The real irony in all this is that when people play 18 holes, they end up walking four or five miles, carrying their clubs," said Cpl. Justin McNaull, spokesman for the Arlington police. "And yet when they get home, they don't carry their clubs the final 50 yards, which could prevent this from happening," he said, adding: "It is something I am also guilty of."

In the last few weeks in Arlington, police have had 10 reports of golf clubs stolen from Toyota 4-Runners, Jeep Cherokees and Lincoln Navigators. It's been par for the course in Alexandria, too, said police spokeswoman Amy Bertsch.

"Because the golf clubs are in plain view, they're easy targets," she said. "People have kept their golf clubs in their trunks before, and there wasn't this problem."

Montgomery County police noticed the trend starting in about mid-July, said Officer Derek Baliles, a police spokesman. It happens mostly at night, and, except for a few monogrammed golf balls, there is usually no way to identify recovered golf bags, he said.

"They're worth a lot of money; I was surprised," said Baliles. "They're just grabbing the golf bag and all their contents, and off they go."

Not usually to play a round of golf, say police. Thieves are happy if they get $30 for $2,000 worth of equipment, which is just what an Arlington pawnshop paid for Lucy Harwood's bag and clubs.

Police matched the clubs at the pawnshop with Harwood's stolen property report in Alexandria. Harwood's clubs, and her husband's, were stolen from their Ford Explorer earlier this month.

With a 1 percent national recovery rate for stolen items, Harwood was grateful that her beloved Arnold Palmer irons, Big Bertha woods and custom-made blue paisley and leather bag are back.

"Unless you're an avid golfer, you don't realize how attached you get to your clubs," said Harwood, 61, who added that she would have paid the thief a ransom to get them back.

No one understands the lure of a good golf club more than Tim Woodruff, general manager of the Washington Golf Center in Arlington, who has heard about a rash of similar thefts in the region and especially on Capitol Hill.

"We've been hit by people attempting to put Callaway woods down their trousers and walk around stiff-legged," he said.

At the Mammoth Golf Co. in Jessup, Md., Bob Wonilowicz says golfers are now trying to disguise their expensive woods with unassuming covers. The Titleist driver head covers, in particular, are easily spotted with their Cat-in-the-Hat look, he said.

Wonilowicz says the best preventive measure is to simply take your clubs in with you. And, adds McNaull, "if somebody does offer you a $300 driver for $40, please call police."