Claude Luke, Rancho Murieta golf pioneer, dies at 86

Published March 29, 2010 at

Claude Luke was an Air Force officer about to leave for Vietnam when developer Ray Henderson invited him to see a golf course he was building out on Highway 16. “I came up here and looked at it and I said, ‘That looks pretty nice,’” Mr. Luke said in a 1998 interview. By the time he returned from the war, the North Course was complete. Mr. Luke attended the grand opening in October 1971, “and I’ve been around here ever since,” he told his interviewers.

Mr. Luke retired from the Air Force to become the first manager of golf operations for Rancho Murieta. He lived in the community with his wife, Pat, from 1978 until his death Feb. 24 at the age of 86.

“Claude was a real big asset, luring people out here,” said Bill Rippon, who was the sales director for real estate during the time Mr. Luke managed golf operations . “Once they got out here, they found out what a marvelous development we had. … He got along with people marvelously. Claude made many, many friends. … He was very congenial, very friendly and a marvelous golfer.”

In its early years, the course was open to the public and “quite a few people wanted to play out here,” recalled Rippon.

Real estate sales began in 1974. The sales office shared office space with the Pro Shop, and the two managers also became neighbors on Guadalupe Drive.

“He was the perfect guy to work in the Pro Shop … everybody knew him,” said Dixie Eudey, whose late husband, Bill Eudey, served as president of the Country Club board.  She added that Mr. Luke  knew many of the pros who participated in tournaments held by the club.

Pat Luke said her husband was introduced to golf in 1951, played in every country but one, held two course records, had 23 holes-in-one and shot 62 on his 62nd birthday. “He just had that ability, and he loved the game, and he was very good at it,” she said.

Claude Luke was involved in Rancho Murieta’s golf operations from the beginning.

In the 1998 interview, conducted by Dixie Eudey and another longtime resident, Marion Cravens, Mr. Luke detailed several holes-in-one that occurred on Rancho Murieta courses, including one that followed another golfer’s hole-in-one into Hole 15 on the South Course. “Two balls in the hole-on-one. The odds, according to Golf Digest, are 23 million to 1. I’ve had some real exciting times playing golf,” he said.

He also reminisced about the grand opening celebration for the South Course in 1979. There was a golf tournament followed by a barbecue on the Yellow Bridge. “We had a big mariachi band down on the rocks. … There was a full moon. I remember it was a gorgeous night,” he said.

Before he was a golfer, Mr. Luke was a tennis player who was ranked 10th nationally at age 19. He was friends with the late tennis professional Bobby Riggs, who played golf when he visited here.

Mr. Luke retired from the Air Force in 1974 with the rank of lieutenant colonel. During his 31-year career, he flew C-54, C-47, C-118 and C-130 airplanes. His career took him around the world, to the White House and on Air Force One. He spent time with President Eisenhower and received commendations that included the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Meritorious Service Medal. “He often said he would have loved to do it all over again,” said Pat Luke.

The Lukes met at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey in 1957.  Pat Luke had started working as a civilian employee during summers while she was still in high school. “I liked the idea of working with interesting people. … Then I realized I had a chance of traveling to different countries, so I thought, well, I think I’ll stick with this,” she said.

At the base, Claude’s new Cadillac was always parked next to her older Chevy and Pat joked that she wished he’d park elsewhere because it “makes my car look junky.” He offered to let her drive his car. After she refused the offer, he suggested they have dinner together.

The couple married in Taiwan in 1969 before Mr. Luke went to Vietnam. “I’m glad that he came into my life,” Pat Luke said.

The Lukes shared a fondness for animals. Over the years they made their home a haven for strays and dogs whose homes hadn’t worked out. During his interview, Mr. Luke talked about his wife coming to defense of mistreated and neglected pets. Pat Luke describes Miss Lulu, their current dog, as “a very important part of his life, as all his doggie friends were.”

Mr. Luke started a tradition of providing treats to dogs living along the South Course. At first, it was two or three as Mr. Luke toured the course, and eventually it was about 30, Pat Luke said. “I went over with him a couple times and the dogs would be out waiting for him, all kinds of dogs, all kinds of breeds.”

After knee problems curtailed his visits, people would call to tell her how they missed him.  In his memory,  “People have been sending contributions to the SPCA, which makes me happy,” she said.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Luke is survived by a sister, Dorothy Lindsay, and family in South Carolina.