Photo: From left, celebrating the grand opening, Tulsa County Commissioners Mike Craddock, Karen Keith and Ron Peters, Tulsa County Parks Director Richard Bales, former TulsaMayor Robert LaFortune, golf course architect Randy Heckenkemper and current Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum.
By Ken MacLeod
The state’s only lighted 18-hole par-3 course reopened to the public today at LaFortune Park, concluding an aggressive design and grow-in time frame that was a credit to Tulsa-based golf course construction company United Golf led by Dale Forrest as well as the design team of Heckenkemper Golf led by associate Conor Cummings.
A group of invited guests attended a press conference Thursday and played the course under the lights. Speaking at the dinner were Tulsa County Parks Director Richard Bales, Tulsa County Commissioner Ron Peters, who grew up playing the par-3, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum, Randy Heckenkemper of the design firm and Director of Golf Pat McCrate.
One special guest was former Tulsa mayor Robert LaFortune, 91, who went for a tour of the course with Heckenkemper prior to the dinner. LaFortune is the son of oilman Joseph A. “Buddy” LaFortune, who teamed with Bill Warren Sr. to run Warren Petroleum Company for 30 years and donated much of the land for LaFortune Park. He is also the grandfather of current Tulsa mayor Bynum.
The much-needed $3 million renovation of the par-3 course is just the latest in a long line of continuing improvements the county has made to LaFortune Park, which includes a state of the art tennis center, pool, baseball fields, picnic areas, walking trails, lawn bowling, a community center as well as the 18-hole championship course and lighted driving range.
The par-3 improvement should soon take its place as one of the park’s prime assets. The lights are four times more powerful than the previous versions, the Tif-Eagle ultradwarf Bermuda greens have grown in wonderfully, the bunkers have white sand and the latest in bunker liner technology, and the Latitude 36 fairways and surrounds, sprigged as late as July, have grown in for the most part, despite three torrential August rains that washed away sprigs and topsoil.
It will be next July before the conditions ripen into what the county is looking for on a daily basis going forward, but it’s a joy to play now and McCrate is hoping for an enthusiastic response from the community.
Cummings designed greens with plenty of movement and interesting pin locations and it will provide a good test for golfers from beginners to low handicappers, with the longer tee boxes providing plenty of options for distance.
“I can’t express enough my appreciation to the board of county commissioners and the taxpayers of Tulsa County for supporting the improvements and our vision for LaFortune Park,” Bales said. “Improving the par-3 course has been a goal of mine for a long time and I am so appreciative that we were able to do this.”
“I’m sorry my golfing days are over,” Robert LaFortune said. “But as Randy took me around to each hole, I can tell that the contours of the greens, the vistas from the tee boxes, are going to make this a real treat. I think it might play a little harder than the one I remember, but Randy assures me it’s not intimidating, it’s entertaining.”
And that it was. To try it for yourself, contact the LaFortune Park pro shop at 918-496-6200.