Golf Gazette: From Riverhead car salesman to hole-in-one machine

06/06/2012 7:00 AM |

JAY DEMPSEY PHOTO | Steve Duke has been a success at selling cars and playing golf.

Back in 1980, I took a job selling cars for Buzzy Chew at Kinney Chevrolet-Oldsmobile in Riverhead. Cars were really not “my thing” as evidenced by the fact that my first set of wheels as a teenager was a Ford Falcon. I then went on to own not one, but two Volkswagen Beetles. Not really super hot chick magnets. My tenure at Kinney, not surprisingly, was less than one year.

Buzz and I realized we should part ways after I devised a plan to get potential customers to view our entire inventory without leaving my desk. If the weather was a bit unsettled, the last thing I wanted to do was walk around outside looking at car after car. I would send my customers out on their own, telling them I had placed one of my business cards, which I cleverly named the “mystery card,” on the dashboard of one of the vehicles. If they located the “mystery card” I would give them $100 off the vehicle of their choice.

Being the enterprising and creative automobile salesman that I was, I had actually never placed a card in any of the vehicles, but it got my customers to spend hours checking out every one of the hundreds of cars we had in the huge lot. When they returned exhausted, saying they were unable to locate the “mystery card,” I congratulated them on their perseverance and told them it was their lucky day. I was still going to give them $100 off for their efforts. Buzz was a good sport and not terribly sad to see me move on.

My desk at Kinney was located directly in front of the truck manager, Steve Duke. When you think of Steve Duke you think of a number of things. Legendary automobile and truck salesman. Fabulous golfer. No nonsense, hard-working straight shooter.

I had not met Steve before working at Kinney, but knew of his reputation both on and off the golf course. Steve and I recently got together and took a trip down memory lane.

Steve Duke was born and raised in Mattituck and was a well-known all-round athlete. “I played all sports in high school: basketball, baseball, soccer and ping-pong. I think I had 12 letters,” Duke said. “I was crazy about baseball.”

Shortly after graduating from Mattituck High School, Duke entered the armed forces and served during World War II.

After his hitch in the service, Duke returned to Mattituck and worked for a short time at an ice cream parlor where he met the future Mrs. Duke. He began his career in the automobile business working as a salesman and troubleshooter for a Ford dealership in Riverhead.

After a few years, Duke moved on to a Chevrolet agency in Riverhead that became Crabtree-O’Keefe Chevrolet. Crabtree-O’Keefe eventually became Kinney Chevrolet-Oldsmobile, which Duke retired from in 1986, leaving a long list of loyal customers behind.

Steve Duke’s entry into golf came by way of a sales contest held by Chevrolet in 1954. Ever competitive, Duke won the contest. The prize was a trip to the Caribbean. Deciding he and his wife needed a new refrigerator and stove more than a week in the sun, Duke took prize points instead of the trip. Along with the new appliances, Steve chose a set of Spalding golf clubs. He had played little golf up to that point. His boss, Mr. O’Keefe, suggested he join North Fork Country Club in Cutchogue, which he did.

Being a natural and gifted athlete, with the help of club professional Fred Bornhauser, Duke fine-tuned his game very quickly. His first time on the course, Steve shot a not so awful round of 116. By year’s end he was scoring in the 80s.

Duke has had nine holes-in-one during his career, has been club champion two times and a runner-up a number of times. His biggest thrill, however, was beating the fabled Steve Doroski in the first round of his first club championship. It has been many decades since the match, but Duke was able to recall every shot like it was yesterday.

Does Steve Duke have any problems with the game of golf today?

“It seems to be that some people are in such a hurry to get done,” he said. “I find that annoying.”

In addition to his successes in athletics, his accomplishments on the golf course and the thousands of vehicles Steve Duke has sold during his lifetime, he’s got it right. Slow down and stop and smell the roses.

Prior to our time together, Steve had just completed a round of golf with his regular group. There are not many sports you can participate in as a nonagenarian. You’ve got to love this game.

TEE TIMES Vince Scheraldi of Cherry Creek Golf Links and The Woods in Riverhead reported two holes-in-one. Kevin Perace aced the second hole at Cherry Creek and Donal Clare holed out on No. 2 at The Woods.

OUTINGS Scleroderma Charity Golf Tournament, June 27, Cherry Creek Golf Links. Call the pro shop at (631) 369-6500 to sign up.

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