Arnold Palmer, the man who put hair on the chest of golf, lit up some of the grand ol' game's Prince George's County followers last night.

Palmer, "general" that he is, flew his plane here, outlined plans to put the new Prince George's Country Club and a surrounding real estate development on a par with spreads he has in Florida, Palm Springs and Latrobe, Pa., and left the gathering as the sentimental favorite of everyone to win the Masters golf tournament.

"I'm going to make a comeback -- either in golf or boxing," he said at the reception at the Newton White Mansion at Enterprise Golf Course, borrowed for the night.

The front of Palmer's plaid sport coat hung free of his tummy, with no strain on the buttons. "I've lost 20 pounds," he explained. "I've been running at least three miles a day, like a boxer.

"I've been working hard, hitting 300 balls a day and playing 18 holes daily.

I'm down from 200 pounds to 180 and I'm going down to 175."

Palmer, whose hair has retreated to the 50-yard line, exuded tawny-tanned good health and vigor in his appearance on behalf of the Mitchellville, Md. enterprise.

His golf architect, Ed Seay, said "He has never been in a better mental attitude. He'll play in the Hermitage tournament as a tuneup, or tightener, then, look out -- here comes Arnie. He was the king of golf -- he is, and he always will be."

That was also the opinion of Palmer's army of duffers who sampled his powerful, interlocking grip and gawked at the yoke of his shoulders.

His audience wanted so much to show how much they liked him that it jumped the gun on the closest things to Palmer punch lines. The controlled, bland voice of media interviews also became as assertive as a drill sergeant's when some murmuring began during his remarks.

"Those of you who are talking back there -- shut up or get out of the room," he said, narrowing his eyes. The murmurers were silenced and yet, despite the tone of the command, he was not at all resented.

Hardly anyone among the few hundred selected guests was in a mood to put up any resistance when he launched his membership drive and promised, "The golf course is going to be 27 holes; its going to be superb, not the most difficult but difficult enough for a Gary Player to enjoy."

With that, the hackers looked sheepishly at their womenfolk and reached for their wallets.