As a spectator sport/art, according to yesterday's sunbaked sophisticates of the links, professional golf lies somewhere on the esthetic spectrum between good opera and bad bowling.

"It's a little like ballet," said Catherine Lorraine of Chevy Chase. "It's a real form of self-discipline, self-mastery."

"I get imbued with their rhythm," said Hank Willner, her husband.

"What's a Jay Haas?" said Bill Tignanelli of Baltimore. "I mean, it's not the Weave (as in Earl Weaver). Of course, as long as I'm out here, I'd rather be watching, say, a Gene Littler than some guy just out of the steel mills."

"It's the only game in town, but it still doesn't compare to the Orioles," said Mike Tomek, also of Baltimore. "You can't get into it. All you can do is subdue yourself, keep your voice down, space out your comments and pound the Budweiser."

Of which last exercise there was plenty during yesterday's morning rounds. Amid an atmosphere easily as festive as at Coney Island on a Memorial Day weekend, if a little removed in terms of tax brackets, about 22,000 people donned the pastels to roam the rolling hills of Congressional yesterday in a celebration of the bigtime's annual visit to Bethesda.

There's a professional golf tournament in your backyard. It's 9 a.m. Saturday. Do you know where your neighbor is? Do you know anything about him? Allowing for giant chunks of variance, a random sample reveals:

He/she attended out of curiosity, a onetime thing, a novel way to spend a Saturday.

He attended at least one of the Oriole-Yankee games this week, possibly two or all three ("You should have seen it," said Linda Brown of Alexandria -- "one of the managers started kicking the dirt. A little guy with white hair.").

He would attend more/any Redskin games if he could only get tickets, and tends to become emotional when discussing that situation ("You have a chance if you know someone with a will," said Jim Wigginton of Bethesda, "or you can hand-fight with the scalpers." "A friend of a friend had a ticket once," said Pat, his wife.).

He attends other professional sports events on a fairly regular basis, with allowances for personal preference ("I wouldn't walk across the street to see a basketball game," said Wigginton; "I didn't miss a King game in Los Angeles for five years," said Laurie Moe of Washington; one man drove 250 miles from southern Virginia yesterday to see the Kemper and then the Orioles).

He didn't mind paying $12 for a ticket ("We paid $30 for first-balcony seats for 'The King and I,'" said Walter Blinebury, "and that's just two hours.") but objected to the various riders attached ("The $12 was worth it," said Joe Pugh of Baltimore, "but they raped us at the parking lot." "I parked in a churchyard," said Elliot Schreider, "so at least my five bucks goes to charity.").

He's just starting to play the game himself ("I try to assimilate their style," said Willner. "I come to see them hit straight balls," said Jeff DeSeati of Hagerstown.) and will play a round himself on Sunday morning before, maybe, watching the final Kemper round on television.

He will certainly return next year, for one day. If the tournament is still here. And if he gets a good offer, because:

He attended this year on a free pass. Approximately one-third of the (biased) sample had shown up because a friend of a friend had a ticket, because her husband worked for a company that had a block, because someone somewhere had an extra.

Of course, no one fits all of these generalizations. In demographics, exceptions are the rule. For every Section 34er, there's a Kennedy Center regular, for every Bain de Soleil tan, a huddler beneath the long arms of a stately pine.

"What I don't understand is why more people don't use the clubhouse," said Doug Coon of Centreville, Va. "I'm gonna sit up there, have a drink, eat a leisurely lunch."

"Golf is, I regret to say it, a high-class sport," said Blair Bailey, 14, of Landon School, one of the volunteers. "I mean, we were working at the pool yesterday and we had an umbrella up because it was raining, and the people up on the terrace asked us to take it down because they couldn't see . . . I don't get it."

"We'll make it a yearly thing," said Larry Lemarr of Winchester.

"I can think of better things to do with $12," said Susan, his wife.