Are you looking for house that elicits a diminutive "wow," a medium "Wow," or an ear-shattering "Wow!"?

River Creek, a 600-acre private gated community on its own golf course in eastern Loudoun County, has houses and views that evoke all these responses.

Developer Mark Montgomery set out to build "the most upscale community" in the Washington area. At completion, River Creek will have 1,100 single-family houses and town houses scattered among 18 fairways or backing up to sizable tree stands.

The most dramatic views and most expensive lots are the 135 single-family houses and town houses that lie along a bluff, 75 feet above the four fairways that are laid out along the Potomac River.

The River Creek golf course is not just beautiful, it also is challenging. Besides the chance of losing more than a few balls in the Potomac, River Creek golfers must also reckon with eight small lakes and five other water hazards that have been incorporated into the design, said Montgomery, who has a 10 handicap.

To make it through an 18-hole round, average players will doubtless have to carry more golf balls in their bags than they normally would. About 2,000 balls were retrieved from the lake on the second fairway when it was cleaned out last year, Montgomery said. That's just one hole.

The great views are a powerful attraction, but Montgomery acknowledged there is a downside to living in a golf course community. Errant golf balls can land in back yards or break windows. To minimize this possibility at River Creek, the lots that adjoin the fairway "landing zones," where window-breaking tee shots are most likely to drop, are deeper than elsewhere. In some instances, River Creek houses in the landing zone are set back as much as 50 feet to 60 feet from the lot line, Montgomery said.

The lakes and sand traps were also strategically placed to keep players and their balls away from the houses, he said. The golf course was designed by Ault, Clark & Associates in Kensington.

All homeowners at River Creek are eligible to join the country club. The $28,000 initiation fee and $240 monthly dues are considered moderate for this area, Montgomery said. Non-golfing homeowners who want only swimming, tennis and clubhouse privileges pay $52.50 in monthly dues.

Of the 11 models available at River Creek, the most eye-catching may be Renaissance Homes' 4,500-square-foot Grand Botticelli, which has a base price of $584,900.

The entry foyer with its circular staircase, hardwood floor with $4,160 inlaid Durango limestone and columned arcades opens onto the living, dining and family rooms, which have 10-foot ceilings. A large number of rear windows overlook the lake on the fifth fairway. The eat-in kitchen/hobby room is huge.

The $14,500 breakfast room extension easily seats eight; the price is high because it extends the house on three levels. The hobby room is large enough to accommodate a big reading chair and ottoman plus two computer workstations. The sprawling kitchen features $2,300 Corian countertops that look like granite, $18,700 white custom cabinets and more than $11,000 worth of upgraded appliances with stainless-steel fronts. The actual food preparation area is surprisingly compact, and is designed to be easy to work in.

On the second floor, the enormous master suite across the rear has its own vestibule and a nine-foot coffered ceiling. The master bathroom has a $6,150 tumbled marble floor, tub deck and vanity counters. Its rear extension puts the tub in a bay with five windows overlooking the golf course.

Renaissance's Bayhill model, next door, is more modest in size and base price--3,500 square feet and $459,900. The two-story octagonal living room functions more as a foyer extension, with the dining room, first-floor master suite and kitchen/family room opening off it.

A 16-foot-wide, $8,550 flagstone terrace with a $2,850 fountain separates the family room from the master suite at the rear. Such an arrangement is common in Florida, but more problematic in our climate. In fair weather, owners will happily take this short cut from the kitchen to their bedroom. But in the colder months, they may grouse as they brave the cold or take the longer way around.

I found the modestly scaled kitchen/family room with its golf course view the most appealing space in the house. I suspect it will attract more buyers than the grander spaces near the front door.

Both Renaissance models were designed by the Lessard Architectural Group in Vienna.

The two single-family models built by the Michael Harris firm are grand but less eye-popping. The furnished one--the 3,400-square-foot, $445,990 base-priced Gleneagle--is a larger version of a house the firm built in South Riding, and also by the same architect, Sami Kirkdil. From the entry foyer, diagonal hallways run toward a rear study and a two-story family room with plenty of windows and views of the golf course.

As shown, the Gleneagle has about $200,000 worth of options, including a $40,000 lot premium, $40,000 for brick on four sides (only the front brick elevation is standard), and $25,000 for a finished basement. In my estimation, however, the most eye-catching upgrade here is the $16,000 Brazilian hardwood floor.

NV Homes' 4,070-square-foot, $474,990 base-priced Georgetown is the most sedate of the single-family models, with no soaring volumes or strong diagonal sight lines. Depending on buyers' needs, however, this low-key design could be a plus. Because this floor plan is less open than the other models, a large household with many different activities going on at the same time would likely be more comfortable here.

Despite the lack of fanfare, the Georgetown as shown has about $265,000 worth of options, including a $32,000 sun room that adds about 200 square feet.

The most unusual offerings at River Creek are the town houses by William L. Berry and Mitchell & Best. Both models meet the legal definition of town houses in Loudoun County because they are connected to an adjoining house on one or two sides. But buyers will regard them as hybrid forms that look and feel like single-family houses.

While most town houses are narrow and deep, these are the reverse--wide and shallow. Inside, the amount of daylight is generally high because, unlike in typical town houses, no area is ever that far from a window. Each of these hybrid houses has a two-car garage adjacent to the living area on the first floor, also unusual for a town house. And their size--2,200 to nearly 3,000 square feet--is typical of single-family houses in this area. As with the typical town house, however, the yards are small, an appealing feature for buyers who are ready to say goodbye to yardwork forever.

The Berry houses, which the firm calls Quartets, were designed by the Creaser-O'Brien firm in Gaithersburg. They are clustered in groups of four, two in the front and two in the back. Each house shares a 50-foot-long wall with the adjoining house and an 18-foot wall with the house behind it. From the front, the 50-foot-plus-wide houses appear to be detached. In the rear, each has a small enclosed rear yard and, in the models as shown, a $3,000 brick patio.

The other model houses at River Creek have the golf course view, but Berry's houses are the only ones that truly integrate exterior and interior spaces. The standard yard treatment is sod, but a bit of landscaping would transform this area into an outdoor room that could be used for much of the year. Landscaping will also make the rooms that open onto the back yard feel bigger.

Berry's 2,490-square-foot, $332,990 base-priced Concerto is a first for me. With its soaring two-story great room and loft overlook that is open to both the kitchen and the foyer, I would characterize this as the "confirmed single-person house." Noise generated anywhere in this big space will likely be heard everywhere. However, sales manager Pat Kalinsky said the house has sold well and most of the buyers have been couples.

The 2,490-square-foot, $329,990 based-priced Berry Polonaise model has everything the buyer of a single-family house usually demands, including separate living and dining rooms and an eat-in kitchen/family room. It also has a first-floor master suite that many older buyers want. The second floor has two bedrooms, a loft overlooking the living room and a fourth bedroom that is a $3,900 option.

Kalinsky thinks so highly of this model that she has purchased one herself.

The Mitchell & Best houses, which were also designed by Sami Kirkdil, are also clustered in groups of four, but to very different effect.

Here the four houses are in a row, but the two on the ends face the side yards. They appear, especially with their two-car garages, to be free-standing, single-family houses. The two houses in the middle of each row open onto a central motor court that is paved with patterned concrete that looks like cobblestones. The house fronts are recessed to accommodate a two-car side-loading garage for each house. Though attractive, the urban cast of the courtyards in such a suburban, golf course setting is startling.

Two of the models shown--the 2,580-square-foot, $292,900 base-priced Innisbrook and the 2,660-square-foot, $324,900 Endicott I--have both formal and informal areas on the first floor. They are separated by kneewalls. For entertaining large groups this arrangement works well, but for daily living these side-by-side spaces seem redundant.

The other model, the 2,714-square-foot, $313,900 base-priced Fairmont II, has a first-floor master suite and a living room, dining room and eat-in kitchen that are quite separate.

Mitchell & Best's second-floor master suites include a generous sitting area. The second bedroom is of average size, but the third one over the two-car garage is huge. Couples who work at home will fight over who gets to use it as an office.

DIRECTIONS: Take the Capital Beltway to the Dulles Toll Road, Exit 12. Take the Toll Road (Route 267) to the end and continue as it becomes the Dulles Greenway. Exit onto Route 659, Belmont Ridge Road, and take this to Route 7. Go left, and then a quick right onto River Creek Parkway. Go two miles to the River Creek entrance on the right.