Hole-in-One Mark Eludes Duke : Golf Magazine Will Certify Some Aces, but Not 14 in Year

Times Staff Writer

A year ago this month, Donna Duke sat down on the green of the 18th hole at Clark Golf Course at the Pt. Mugu Naval Air Base and had a good cry.

Just another frustrated golfer who four-putted a hole? Not this time.

Donna Duke, 55, a retired civil service worker who hadn't hit a hole-in-one in her first 14 years of golfing, had just aced her 12th hole of the year. Those were tears of happiness. She thought she had a record.

Golf Digest magazine, which keeps track of such things, had listed a record of 11 aces in a calendar year.

Duke's record-setting shot was witnessed by three other golfers who signed verification cards. Her score card was then signed by the course pro and sent to Golf Digest, which certified the hole-in-one.

But the magazine won't certify the record.

Confused? So is Duke, who said she had 28 different witnesses to the 12 aces.

"It bothers me that they don't believe me, but it bothers me more that I have witnesses and they don't believe them, either," Duke said.

Lois Haines, editor of Golf Digest, said Duke's feat will not be recognized as a record because many of her witnesses never actually saw the ball go in the hole.

"They're saying that the hole was not visible from the tee, or they couldn't see that far," Haines said. "We just can't verify an incredible number like that without a lot of people who saw the shots actually enter the hole."

So is the magazine accusing Duke of cheating? "I'd rather not get into any of that," Haines said. "We can't verify it, so it's not a record. That's all I want to say."

By now Duke should be accustomed to dealing with cynics. Included in her streak were aces on three consecutive days. Another came on April Fool's Day. At one course, Duke said in an interview last year, skeptical employees followed her as she played.

"Maybe they think I have a trained pet gopher who is picking the ball up with his teeth and dropping it in the hole," Duke said.

But who could blame a person for being a little incredulous?

After all, the holes she's been playing don't have little windmills to shoot through. They range in distance from 110 to 224 yards. Two were par 4s.

Duke has hit three more aces since she thought she had the record. Her 13th of 1985 came on Sept. 10 at the Sunset Hills Country Club in Thousand Oaks. She used a driver to ace the par 4, 224-yard 13th hole. Number 14 came on Oct. 16 at the Western Hills Golf and Country Club when she used a 7 wood on the par 3, 134-yard 14th hole.

Duke's last ace came on March 7 this year when she became the first woman to hit a hole-in-one at the new River Ridge Golf Course in Oxnard. She used a 3 wood to ace the 192-yard eighth hole. That gave her 17 holes-in-one since her streak started on Sept. 22, 1984.

In April, Duke was asked to prove her tee-shot prowess in front of a television camera. Mike Chamberlin, KCOP Channel 13 sportscaster, and a camera crew accompanied Duke to the par 3 122-yard 14th hole at River Ridge. She wasn't allowed to warm up and was given only three shots to see how close she could come to another ace.

Said Chamberlin: "Her first shot landed on the green. Her second shot landed in the middle of the green. And her third shot hit about 15 feet in front of the hole and rolled to within a half-inch of the cup. I'll bet a quarter-inch of the ball rolled over the cup. It was amazing. She almost made an ace for us right on camera."

And is Chamberlin a believer? "You bet I am," he said. "She proved it to me without a doubt."

Irene Cunningham, who shares a home in Camarillo with Duke, is working on a letter to the Guinness Book of World Records. Perhaps Duke's aces will be recognized by the publication as a record for women.

When The Times contacted Norris McWhirter, editor of the American edition, at his London office last year, he said Duke's feat sounded "rather freakish." (What in the book isn't?)

But Duke said she doesn't foresee any problem getting the record published.

"We have all the written documentation by the witnesses," she said. "It was all sent back to us by Golf Digest."

Even if her feat is never recognized as a record, Duke said she is content. "I know I've done it and that's what really matters," she said. "I'm just having fun playing golf. That's why I play, to have fun, not break records."

And the better she plays, the more fun she has.

Before Duke started her streak of aces she had an 18 handicap. Now it is down to 11. "I'm not hitting the ball any longer than I used to. Age has taken its toll," Duke said. "But I'm playing well, no doubt about it.

"Now if I could only improve my putting. It's always been atrocious."

Well, maybe she's human after all.

DONNA DUKE: 17 HOLES IN ONE

No. Date Course Hole Length Club 1 9-22-84 Ojai Valley 17th 110 yards 7 iron 2 11-11-84 Kauai Surf Club 17th 139 yards 5 iron 3 1-16-85 Saticoy Regional 16th 194 yards 3 wood 4 1-21-85 Clark/Pt. Magu 11th 153 yards 7 iron 5 1-22-85 Camarillo Springs 12th 163 yards 7 wood 6 1-23-85 Saticoy Regional 16th 194 yards 5 wood 7 1-30-85 Saticoy Regional 7th 213 yards Driver 8 3-5-85 Camarillo Springs 15th 134 yards 6 iron 9 3-12-85 Camarillo Springs 12th 163 yards 5 wood 10 3-21-85 North Kern County 7th 135 yards 6 iron 11 4-1-85 Saticoy Regional 8th 160 yards 7 wood 12 4-23-85 Camarillo Springs 7th 140 yards 7 wood 13 6-26-85 Saticoy Regional 15th 132 yards 7 wood 14 7-26-85 Clark/Pt.Mugu 18th 274 yards Driver 15 9-10-85 Sunset Hills 13th 224 yards Driver 16 10-16-85 Western Hills 14th 134 yards 7 wood 17 3-7-86 River Ridge 8th 192 yards 3 wood

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