When a golfer walks out of the locker room at Columbia Country Club is Chevy Chase, he cannot avoid seeing a sign that says: "Columbia has two pars - 70 and 3 1/2 hours."

It has been almost two decades since a president named Palmer helped make the sport popular and create the bane of golf today: slow play.

"We've not gotten rid of it, but we're combatting it," said Bill Strausbaugh, the Columbia pro. "You have to play. There is not a bigger problem is the game today.It's the No. 1 cancer in golf."

Throughout the Washington area, various clubs and public courses are taking steps to speed up play.

And, although every pro interviewed had his own ideas about the best remedy for slow play at his course, they all agreed that common sense and an awareness of what causes six-hour rounds would help.

They all pointed to two major problems, television and golf carts. Golfers emulate the pros they see on television, especially a player like Jack Nicklaus, who takes forever putting. That may help Nicklaus, but it is likely to be detrimental to the average player, who will tense more the longer he grips the putter.

As for the golf cart, pro Hank Majewski of Hobbit's Glen in Columbia, Md., sees a day soon when players who use carts must pass a test and have a license to operate them, just like cars on a highway.

"You have to educate them," said Majewski, "about how to drive a cart, where to Park it and where not to park it, just like emphasizing that you shouldn't lay a bag in the front of the green so you have to walk back for it and hold up play."

Majewski has rangers patrolling his course and said he has ordered players off the course when they play too slowly.

Tradition also plays havoc with faster play.

"The greater timesaver of all," said Norbeck Country Club pro Henry Gerardi, "is whoever is ready to hit on the tee should hit, instead of waiting for the playing with the honor. You can play a fivesome and do that as quickly as any foursome can play."

Other players, said Washington Golf and Country Club pro Clare Emery, do not concentrate on what they are doing. As a result, he said, it takes them a long time to choose a club, when they could have walked from the cart to their ball with the two or three clubs they likely need.

"It would speed it up if most people would make up their minds what club they're going to use before they get to their ball," Emery said. "Their mind wander off they fiddle around and then don't know what club they'll have to use when they should be ready to hit."

The same thing happens on the greens, according to Majewski.

"People stand around and watch somebody else putt, then line up their putt," he said. "A person should be ready to putt when it's his turn.

"A lot of it is common sense," he added. "Most of the time lost is on the green - lining up putts after the other person finishes. The common rule should be: when it's your turn to hit it, be prepared to hit it immediately. If there's one comment about slow play, that's it. People are unprepared when it's their turn."

Yet, for all his fellow pros who worry about extremely slow play, Lakewood Country Club's Bob Schuh says the speed merchants also is a detriment, especially on weekends, when Schuh considers 4 1/2 hours a good time for 18 holes.

"Weekday golf and weekend golf are horses of two different colors," Schuh said. "Assuming you can play as fast on weekends, when the amount of play is doubled or even tripled is very foolish. If they can play a round in a 4 1/3hours on weekends, I'm proud (of his members).

"Racehorse golfers don't give a hootor a damn about enjoying the game. One's just as bad as the other. There's no place on the golf course for guys who try to beat all speed records, or slow players."

Pat Hanagen, a 13-handicapper at Greencastle, plays completitively in a regular foursome that turns 18 holes in 2 hours 15 minutes, when there are no obstructions.

"The beggest thing is too much television," he said. "Too many idiots up there putting."

He also considers the tradition of the "away" players hitting first and the misuse of carts as other major factors that slow play. Another problem, he said, is looking for lost balls that are hopelessly lost.

"They're the diehards, low as well as high handicapper," Hanagan said. "May-be the low handicapper doesn't want to sacrifice the strokes and the high handicapper doesn't want to lose the ball."

There were other ideas about speeding play and taking away the danger of on-course brouhahas about slow play and etiquette.

At Andrew AFB, where more than 1,000,500 rounds are played each weekend, pro Fred King has found that keeping the rough cut short has helped reduce rounds from 5 1/2 to four hours. He also found that trying to put too many players on the course actully increased the time of rounds, instead of reducing it.

At Norbeck, assistant pro Tom Reynolds designates one player in each foursome as spokeman for that group. If any on-course disputes arise over etiquette or slow play, it is settled by the spokesman.

Putting more distance makers on the course, in addition to the 150-yard marker, will speed play, Majewaki says, because players would have less difficultry determining yardage and, therefore, selecting clubs.