THE patch of grass behind the Ninth Tee is sun-warmed and spongy-green; it makes you want to shirk adulthood, kick your shoes off, and run around on your toes. But frivolity of this sort comes easy only to babies. On this spot, 16-month-old Sarah Purtzer hops on bare feet and then breaks into a trot. Oblivious golfers in spiked shoes click by. As they head for the clubhouse, she heads for the fairway.
``Sarah! You come back here!'' calls Kristen, Sarah's nanny, from under a tree. But Baby sprints on, with an occasional dive onto all fours or plop onto diapered bum.
Mother, meanwhile, was whacking some balls at the nearby driving range. She was gearing up for the Boston Five Classic, part of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tour that swung through New England this summer. If she made the cut, Tina Purtzer would play four straight days of golf - 72 holes - here at Ferncroft Village.
So nanny and child waited. That's what golf families sometimes have to do, even if it means endless rounds of ``catch me if you can'' and under-the-tree diaper changes.
This year, the LPGA tour has a record number of women with both golf bags and diaper bags in tow. Professional golf is no exception to the modern phenomenon of women leading double lives.
The number of women with young children has so grown, in fact, that this year, golf management has arranged for free child care all along the tour, a significant step in women's professional sports.
While most mothers take advantage of this service, a few women, such as Mrs. Purtzer, also hire nannies to travel with them.
But ``tour moms'' are still by far in the minority: Out of 150 players in the LPGA, just 15 have children.
``It's not something everyone can handle,'' said golfer Cathy Reynolds, mother of one. Because of the time spent traveling and practicing, just getting married is ``a major deal,'' she added.
But ``the '80s have shown that women's sports are becoming more accepted,'' said Carolyn Roskowski, manager of sales and promotion with the LPGA. So, too, is the image of the career-pursuing mother.
For several years, golfer Nancy Lopez has been in the public eye, achieving stardom stature and raising two children.
Child care on tour, therefore, is ``smart business,'' said Ms. Roskowski, both for the tour's commercial interests and for management-player relations. The LPGA has entered into an agreement with Kinder-Care, a national network, and ``is setting a trend for overall improvement of women's sports,'' she said.
The rise in the number of golf moms can also be linked to the age of its players. Because the sport is less physically demanding than tennis, for instance, women can compete into their 30s and 40s. This increases the chances of marriage and having a family.
``Let's face it, in tennis, unless you're someone like Chris Evert, you're done playing by the time you're 25,'' said Dale Eggeling in an interview during the tournament.
Mrs. Eggeling, of Tampa, Fla., has been with the LPGA since 1976 and had a child about five months ago. ``I'm 34 now, and I don't want to have just one, but two or three. So I thought I'd just go ahead and start.''
Tina Purtzer dreamed of being in the LPGA ever since she was a teen-ager. Once on the tour, she knew she wanted children but didn't want to shelve her golfing career.
Purtzer played competitively until she was 8 months pregnant. Now she and Sarah have ``hit the road'' together, traveling from tournament to tournament, hotel to hotel.
``It's tough. I would never say it's easy - but it's enjoyable,'' she said. ``I think a lot of girls [on the tour] are knowing they can do it.''
Purtzer travels with Sarah and nanny Kristen Lincoln for three or four weeks at a time. Then they spend about two weeks at home in Scottsdale, Ariz., where Tina's husband lives. While having both a home life and a road life is ``a pretty good deal'' for Sarah, said Purtzer, it's challenging for Dad.
``He misses her unbelievably,'' said Purtzer. ``It's a tough situation for him - and for me, because I feel Sarah should see him more. But she talks to him on the phone every night.''
Mother, nanny, and child take weekly flights to the various tournaments, which are spread out across the country.
``Sarah's been on more planes than a lot of kids,'' said Purtzer. ``Once the engine starts, she knows exactly what's going to happen.'' With her two companions, Purtzer rents a car from the airport, loads it up with eight or nine bags, and drives as much as an hour to the hotel near each golf course.
For little Sarah, living in different rooms each week is a mixture of discovering what's ``new'' and feeling secure with what's ``old.''
``Basically the hotel rooms are a mess - she pretty much tears the room apart in about five minutes,'' said Purtzer. But one omnipresent item is Sarah's bed, a portable playpen that folds up into a duffel bag.
``I decided to take the playpen with us because she'd be familiar with it every week. She knows that's her bed.''
Professional golf is truly a ``gypsy life,'' said Ms. Reynolds, whose home is in Springfield, Mo. ``But there's a lot you can learn on the road....'' Rather than flying, she and her son, Derek, aged 4, drive a van across the country.
The day before the Boston Five Classic, Cathy Marino was out on the Ferncroft course, boning up for the competition. She had just sunk the final putt on the 18th hole when she spotted Donna White, a fellow player, passing by.
``Donna! I'm in a bind,'' Cathy called out. ``Kinder-Care closes at 5:30 and I tee off tomorrow at 2:30. Can you pick up Julie?''
No problem. Donna had to pick up her own daughter at Kinder-Care anyway, so she'd bring back Cathy's little girl, too.
Perched in a golf cart outside the clubhouse, Mrs. Marino talked about the center where her two-year-old daughter spends six or seven hours each day.
``Kinder-Care has worked out pretty well,'' said Marino. ``Julie loves it, and that's what matters to me.
``You still have worries about coordinating times and when to pick her up, but it's really a big help, because I don't have anyone to travel with me.'' Marino's husband is at home in Overland Park, Kan., where he runs a business. He comes out to some tournaments when he can get away.
Last year, before Kinder-Care was available, Marino enlisted relatives to come along and help look after Julie. Even now, Julie sometimes stays with grandparents for a week at a time, ``which is really fun for them.''
``Most of my relatives are really supportive of my golf - especially my husband. They all want me to play well. And they see that Julie really enjoys coming out here, so it works out well.''
With her daughter accompanying her this summer, time on the golf course is limited.
``I usually have to cut my practice off a little bit,'' said Marino. ``But I feel like I make more `quality' time - I concentrate even harder when I'm doing it.''
Dale Eggeling feels the same way.
``Before, I never really spent that much time practicing, but now my free time is precious time to me, so I'm putting more effort into my game, now that I've become a mother.'' Her husband travels with her, working as a Taylor-Made golf company representative.
Having son Dustin with her, she said, ``is going to help my attitude, because when you come back after you've had a good round or a bad round, he doesn't care. He's just there, and he loves ya.''
For most of these professional athletes, golf has been the focus of their lives since childhood. But now, they've seen their priorities shift.
``You can get bogged down with golf,'' said Reynolds, now in her 11th year with the LPGA. With all that experience, ``I don't need to be on the course as much anymore or hang around the club from sunup to sundown.''
``You realize that golf really isn't that important,'' says Eggeling. ``You love it, but it's not the only thing in the world.''