McCrate’s sudden passing stuns, saddens Oklahoma golf community

Like and Follow Golf Oklahoma

By Ken MacLeod

Oklahoma lost one of its greatest golf ambassadors Wednesday evening when Pat McCrate, whose company JSJ Inc. contracted with Tulsa County to run the golf operations at both LaFortune Park Golf Course in Tulsa and South Lakes Golf Course in Jenks, passed away of a heart attack.

McCrate, 56, was known for running one of the most comprehensive public golf operations in the state. One that stressed not only quality courses to play at affordable rates, but full service pro shops, lessons, club fitting, junior golf, beginner programs, tournament operations and more.

An editor’s note here. McCrate and I have been fast friends since even before he took over the reins of the Tulsa County operations when his mentor Jerry Jones retired and sold him the business in 2001.

An Ohio native who attended Ferris State in Big Rapids, Mich., before being hired as an assistant pro to Jones, McCrate learned from one of the best on how to run a quality golf operation that did not concede equipment, apparel and merchandise sales to the discount shops. Like Jones, he was a tough negotiator but his attempts at projecting the same curmudgeonly air usually fell apart due to his friendly and optimistic disposition.

As a fellow Buckeye fan in a land of Sooners and Cowboys, we shared a lot of game days together and even a trip to the 2015 national championship conquest of Oregon in Dallas. I respected him greatly for what he did at LaFortune Park to promote golf in general and his unwavering support for our mission to do the same. We communicated on a near daily basis, agreed on a lot, argued vociferously about other things (golf ball rollback being the latest). We played when we both had time and I’ve still got the dollar he signed in my wallet from our first match.

Many others feel the same way about McCrate. It was stunning morning of disbelief for all that he could actually be gone.

“I love Pat, absolutely love him,” said teaching professional Maggie Roller, who got her start working for McCrate at South Lakes and is now the director of instruction at Cedar Ridge Country Club. “He was the ultimate supporter of junior golf in Tulsa. We had LPGA Junior Girls Golf out there every year and he never charged us. He supported U.S. Kids, our AJGA qualifier, high schools. He just got the future of golf and it’s junior golf.

“A lot of my career is because of him. He always texted me when my kids did something, always. What a loss for all of us.”

“The loss of Pat is hard to wrap your head around,” said PGA South Central Section Executive Director Brian Davis.  “He was one of the best PGA Professionals in The South Central Section, always pushing to enhance the PGA brand through LaFortune Park and South Lakes.  He was someone who other PGA Members called on as a friend and a mentor.  Pat checked all the boxes from an award winning golf shop, to a junior golf promoter and a business manager.  His void will be hard to fill as I’m sure so many of us have great memories of sitting in his office learning and listening to his wealth of knowledge.”

Cary Cozby, director of golf at Southern Hills Country Club, had a deep appreciation for McCrate’s knowledge and business acumen in running two huge public golf operations and the two bounced ideas and shared information frequently.

“Pat was a great professional, great guy and a great friend,” Cozby said. “I will miss our conversations about the business, college football, his quick wit and his friendship. He was one of the best to ever do it and I’m thankful for his contributions to the game and his friendship. This is a huge loss for Tulsa and the game of golf.”

No one understood McCrate’s business skills better than the sales reps he worked with over the years. Long-time Titleist rep Pat Moriarty, who had the Tulsa and Oklahoma area from 1999 until moving to Washington, D.C. in 2019, said you had to earn McCrate’s business but if you did the rewards were rich.

“Pat was tough, the toughest I’ve worked with but a good tough,” Moriarty said. “We were two Irish guys from working class families giving each other a hard time constantly. We didn’t mind being self depracating and we shared a lot in common. He had his routine and taught me early the importance of counting every glove or every hat. He taught us how to be honest, do the job with integrity and to just be yourself. If you earned his respect, he gave it right back and it turned into a wonderful business relationship and friendship.

“He knew his business as well as anyone I’ve met and demanded you to be on your game. I’m better off because of working with him. He made me who I am today.”

“Pat was the epitome of public golf. He wasn’t there like a management group that was going to suck the money out of a place. He was there to give the golfer a wonderful experience. That was because of the way he trained his employees and the vendors.”

Former Tulsa County Parks Director Richard Bales, who worked closely with McCrate on the operations and capital improvements at both South Lakes and LaFortune Park for decades until his retirement in 2019, was devastated by the news. Under their working agreement, the county is responsible for hiring and funding the maintenance operations and restaurant operations while McCrate hired pro shop staff, instructors, cart room attendants and marshals under a revenue split of all income generated by greens fees, range fees and cart rentals.

“Pat was a top-notch golf pro and his priority was growing the game,” Bales said. “He was constantly looking for improvements and innovations. He was extremely customer oriented and he helped grow the game tremendously in Tulsa. I was proud to work with him and proud to call him a friend.”

McCrate had battled a variety of health issues in recent years including a heart issue, liver problems, gout and a recent hernia surgery. Yet he was in good spirits and looking forward to a resolution of a drawn-out contract renewal process with the county and a good year for golf in 2024 during recent visits.

Now JSJ Inc. will pass on to his daughters Madeline and Molly and hopefully Tulsa County will find a worthy successor to arrange a purchase of the company’s assets and continue McCrate’s legacy of excellence.

“We’re absolutely devastated by this,” said Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith. ‘We’re just stunned. He’s been an amazing partner with Tulsa County and in the process developed a huge community of followers in golf that adore him. He did a remarkable job and is not going to be easy to replace. His footsteps were always positive. It’s a huge loss for Tulsa County and the golfing community.”

LaFortune Park, with its 18-hole championship course and 18-hole par-3 course, and South Lakes are consistently among the most-played courses in Oklahoma every year, partly due to the welcoming atmosphere and professional courtesy McCrate demanded of his staff.

Tulsa golf architect Randy Heckenkemper worked closely with McCrate when doing major redesign work of both the championship course and the par-3. More than that, they also shared many long discussions about what makes a successful golf operation.

“Pat was a great friend who taught me many things about golf operations. His willingness to share his knowledge also influenced my design of municipal golf courses,” Heckenkemper said. “Pat was extremely attentive to his players and sincerely listened to them and wanted to address any concerns they may have. The “local pro” is the face of a course and person players want to have a relationship with.

“He gave his time growing the game by conducting many clinics which included juniors, business women, and veterans to name a few. He often told stories of the people who trained him growing up in the golf industry and recognized his role to help the next generation of golf professionals. He always provided the best merchandise and equipment for his players to choose from.  He truly wanted each player at his courses to have a fun and memorable experience. I will miss him greatly as a friend and confidant.”

Eric Mueller, a long-time friend and one of the state’s top amateur golfers, could often be found sitting across from McCrate in his office catching up on the latest. Wednesday was one of those days.

“I was in Pat’s office that afternoon and I am still in shock over his passing,” Mueller said. “I hope people realize what a consummate golf pro and a great guy he was.  It takes a special person to do for the county what he did.  I will miss the great conversations we used to have about golf, football, politics and everything else. Rest in peace my friend, I will miss you!”

Bill Harper, one of many LaFortune Park golfers who enjoyed seeing McCrate as much as they did playing the course, had this reaction.

“He was the consummate golf ambassador. He never met a stranger. When you walked into LaFortune’s pro shop he always greeted you with a smile. And if he knew you, you probably would had to dodge a barb or two. 

“To say he was funny is an understatement. 

“And he helped my golf game. It’s not that great but better than it would have been without him. He gave me oodles of lessons with one stipulation: you can’t tell anyone. “It would be harmful to my reputation,” he would always say laughingly. He truly knew golf, how to run the business and to grow the game. Without him LaFortune Park wouldn’t be held in such high regard. It’s not just the best public course in Tulsa but the state. Maybe the region as well.

Michael Boyd, a former PGA pro at Indian Springs Country Club now in private business, said McCrate was public golf in Oklahoma.

“You can’t think about public golf in Oklahoma without thinking about Pat McCrate,” Boyd said. “And he did so much to help me when I was in the business. He showed me how to set up a pro shop, what to buy, everything.”

Pat McTigue, head professional at Meadowbrook Country Club and a former neighbor in south Tulsa, said the news hit hard today.

“Prayers for his daughters for peace and grace in their grieving,” McTigue said. “Pat was a fellow PGA member, as well as my neighbor for many years, and the neighborhood and Tulsa golf community has lost a valued and respected member. Pat was a savvy businessman, quick with a smile and a joke always. Godspeed, Pat. This world is better for having had you in it. Rest in peace.”

The atmosphere at LaFortune Park Thursday was somber to say the least. Head professional Josh Stewart, who at 39 has been a PGA pro at various Tulsa-area courses for 10 years, said it was “shocking and heartbreaking” when he learned of McCrate’s passing this morning.

“Pat’s main goal was to put the people of Tulsa County first, always,” Stewart said. “The customers were No. 1 and a dollar wasn’t important, it was the experience of the public. Public golf in Tulsa is what it is because of Pat. He taught us that’s who you’re going to serve and that’s why this operation has always ran so well.”

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