"Give me a year," Lee Elder was saying. "Come back next year at this time and judge me. Someday I hope to have this baby, not like Firestone maybe, but in good shape, a first-class public golf course."

Elder was on what now passes for the 16th fairway at his latest enterprise, Langston Golf Course, his eyes looking at weeds and bare-dirt spots but his mind seeing firm grass that would allow a player an honest shot toward the green.

Langston has the potential to be exactly what Elder would like - and Elder seems to have the time and money to make that potential a reality. As its new concessionaire, Elder surveys Langston like a man with a challenge for his retirement years - except his retirements keeps seeming longer away each week.

At 44, when the Palmers, Caspers and so many others were in steady, if not swift decline, Elder is enjoying his richest year in golf - and not all of it involves money. He seems certain to make the Ryder Cup team and is 19th in Verdon-Trophy points, after winning the Westchester Classic Sunday.

"Whein I started the tour. I was 33, and to be frank I gave myself 10 years before I settled down to this or some sort of club job "he said." Now getting off the tour is the farthest thing from my mind.

"I'm amazed myself. Why I've done it isn't clear, although I'm concentrating better Things that used to bother me don't now. The change in stance (Lee) Trevino suggested has helped an I've always stayed in pretty good shape. And I work hard.

"I practice a certain type shot - and then I have the guts to use it during a tournament. I'll gamble to the extent it'll help. On the practice tee, you see guys who seem unbeatable. Then they can't hit a fairway, because they practice one way and play another."

As he rode about Langston in a cart yesterday. Elder spoke of wanting to have a role in its future years ago, during his hustling days. Like any other investor, Elder will spend money to make money, perhaps $25,000 over a four-year period.

His wife and business manager, Rose, said that "a substantial" portion of the money will be Elder's but that "funds from various agencies will be requested. For youth development, for instance, we'll try to find government funds.

"We'd already invested $10,000 prior to getting the approval (from the Interior Department). That was over eight-year period. We've had (architect) Eddie Ault on retainer for some time."

It does not take an Ault or an Elder to realize Langston needs the sort of care Montgomery County and other areas devote to their public courses, although some players insist it was in especially horrid condition a few years ago.

"How somebody could let this course get in this type shape is ridiculous," Elder said as he maneuvered the cart down a path from the clubhouse he also expects to alter. "But even in this condition, look at the people who're playing. Think of what a first-class facility would bring."

Elder plans to resod all 18 tees as quickly as possible and develop some semblance of fairway on two or three back-nine holes. Some players wish he could add air-conditioning to the entire final nine holes.

At least the greens are green, which was not always the case a few years ago. Or at least most of the greens are green. Brown patches are scattered about because a weed killer strayed from the fairway weeds.

Elder pointed to a man with a hose spraying the 10th green and said: "We'll be adding a sprinkling system. That's been one of the major problems. I'll bet this place hasn't been fertilized or watered or seeded since they've been playing here."

Langston is flat and open, nearly 6,400 yards from the men't tees and more than 6,800 yards for anyone who feels especially Elder-like. As Elder said proper management could tighten it.

"I want to experiment with different grasses," he said. "See which does best in this climate. Probably, I'll add a nursery near the 15th hole. And remodel the clubhouse so the players can have a nice breakfast and lunch and also relax.

"We'll also add tennis courts."

This dream of Eler's apparently would take shape more quickly if Elder kept winning $150,000 or so by Aug. 21 each year.That will not happen, he said. Or probably not.

I'll work hard to stay exempt," he said, "but not make $100,000 or $150,000. Next year, I'll only play 15 to 20 tournaments, because I plan to spend a lot of time here at the club."

Also, foresee taking over (as concessionaire) all three (District) public courses - Rock Creek Park and East Potomac, also "he said." I'd certainly entertain all three."

Now and then, as he did near the 17th green yesterday. Elder takes a glance backward at his life, at being denied - for reasons that include race and economics - a chance to make a decent living at golf for so long.

"You never know," he said. "Maybe if I'd have been able to get on tour earlier I'd have been unprepared. But I did get in a lot of tournament golf and also a lot of gambling golf.

"I'm not cocky, but I did feel there wasn't anyone that could beat me. And on tour there were a lot of good players, U.S. Amateur champions, former tour winners. And now most of them are gone."