WASHINGTON AREA pay-as-you-play public golfers have it all, from great courses like Algonkian and Northwest lark, layouts most country clubbers would gladly adopt, to lesser pastures were it seems the same mowers are used for fairways and greens.

There are about 25 public courses to choose from - well trodden locals to ou-of-the-way links like South Wales near Warrenton, where you can play a beautiful back nine in weekday seclusion. Or Shannon Green, an Eddie Aylt-designed course in Frederickburg a tour stop for the Middle Atlantic PGA.

Needwood assistant pro Red Wallace points out that Maryland is next to Alaska [WORD ILLEGIBLE] fewest public courses per capita, but there is no shortage around the Washington area.

Want to walk a course without feeling like billy goat? Try East Potomac on Halls Point. There's not a hill on the place and less wait to get on the first [WORD ILLEGIBLE] than you might think.

Want to work on your iron game?Try linecrest No. 1 near Annandale or Burle Lake. Each offers 18 par-three hole with good greens.

Want to play without traveling far and shelling out a bundle? Play Rock Creek, off 16th Street NW, which charges $1.25 for a weekday nine.

Want to check out a new course? Try Redgate in Rockville or Enterprise, Prince George's County's only 18-hold public course, which opened last fall. Enterprise is remarkably free of rocks, the scourge of most new courses.

Want to play just for relaxation - not to break your back? The "executive" nine at Starlit Fairways in Fairfax is made up of short par-four and par-three holes only.

Want a challenge? Northwest Park in Wheaton measures 7,200 yards from the championship tees. The second hole requires two cannon shots and two putts for a hard-earned par four. The dogleg par-four 13th, one of the area's toughest, is bordered by forest and creek.

Want a well manicured course with fairway sprinkler and huge, true greens like the PGA pros play? Try Algonkian near Sterling, Va.

That bane of public golfers, the tedious first tee wait, can be avoided. But don't travel to Needwood, Northwest Park,Algonkian, Twin Lakes and others on weekends unless you've reserved a starting time. And generally expect some wait at peak hours even on weekdays.

One bloody Sunday, 762 played Northwest Park's 27 holes. Needwood handles a 250-300 weekday crowd.

Algonkian has marshals to speed up play. They won't assess you a two-stroke penalty for dawdling, but you might get a tongue-lashing. In order to make golfers conscious of speedy, polite play, one area course has a conspicuously placed sign of pointers headed by the suggestion "Be a golfer, not a headache."

Greens fees for area courses vary depending on daily or weekend play. Senior citizen, junior and twilight discounts are available as well as all-day rates for more than 18 holes. Ladies' days are posted. Laytonsville and Falls Road in Montgomery County have a flat fee whereby $45 entitles one to 13 rounds of 18 holes or 26 rounds of nine. Many have locker room facilities, driving ranges, pro shops, practice greens, and club and cart rentals. All have snack bars and rest rooms. For details, call the pro shops.

If you want to wager a dime or so on your golf game, ask around. Therre's action. But don't bet against a stranger who says he can beat you playing on one leg with a taped jumbo Dr. Pepper bottle. Golf's a funny game.