Tulsa County to offer contract to JSJ Inc to continue operations at LaFortune Park, South Lakes

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By Ken MacLeod

Although much work behind the scenes remains to be completed, all indications are that Tulsa County will extend a contract offer Tuesday to JSJ Inc. under the expected eventual ownership of Josh Stewart to continue to manage golf operations at LaFortune Park and South Lakes golf courses.

The assurance of a contract offer allows Stewart and his representatives to work to finalize negotiations with the family and representatives of Pat McCrate, long-time director of golf at both facilities and sole owner of JSJ Inc., which operated the courses for the county since 2001 under McCrate and decades before under Jerry Jones. McCrate passed away unexpectedly Dec. 27, 2023, of a heart attack. Both sides indicated they hope those negotiations and terms of a sale are completed by March 1.

Tulsa County commissioner Karen Keith said today that a recent visit to LaFortune Park in which she talked extensively with Stewart and the support of the local golf community for Stewart convinced her that extending the contract offer was in the best interest of continuing the legacy of both McCrate and Jones before him built in offering comprehensive and successful golf operations at the two facilities. The county had considered putting out an RFP (request for proposal) and also had the option of negotiating with experienced golf operators in the area who showed interest in the operation.

“After meeting with Josh and hearing from the experts in the community, he has overwhelming support and I’m really excited to move forward with him,” Keith said. “Getting to hear from the experts like Randy Heckenkemper, they are all big, big supporters and have confidence in his leadership.”

Randy Heckenkemper

Heckenkemper, the Tulsa golf course architect who designed South Lakes and performed major renovations of both the championship course and par-3 course at LaFortune Park, worked closely with McCrate over the years and has endorsed Stewart as fully ready to continue

“Municipal course operations must deal with many unique challenges,” Heckenkemper said. “Since 1988 when I began the design process with Tulsa County on South Lakes, I was able to see and learn from Pat McCrate and the JSJ team.  Pat selected Josh Stewart to succeed him when he eventually retired or moved back to Ohio to be closer to his parents. I have been contacted by many of the faithful Tulsa County golfers hoping JSJ would continue to operate the courses.  I appreciate the efforts of the county commissioners who did their homework on JSJ and listened to the golfers so that the county courses will have a seamless transition under Josh’s leadership.  Pat has left a large void in the Tulsa golf community, but his legacy will live on as the JSJ staff is among the best course operating companies I have seen.”

So who is Josh Stewart and why is he ready to seamlessly take control of a multi-million dollar operation that has as many as 70 employees in the golf season and oversees operation of two courses that saw close to 147,000 rounds played in 2023 (55,000 at South Lakes, 35,000 on the par-3 course and 57,000 on the LaFortune Park championship course, among the largest numbers in the state?)

Josh Stewart with, left to right, wife Courtney, son Payne, 2, and daughter Palmer, 5.

Stewart, 40, has experience as an assistant and head professional in the Tulsa area. The Sand Springs native started his career at Tulsa Country Club under Jeff Combe in 2005 after playing collegiately at both Northeastern Oklahoma A&M and Central Oklahoma. He was later an assistant at Battle Creek in Broken Arrow and the Oaks Country Club from 2007-14 and worked under Brian Talley as the head professional at Sand Springs for five years before leaving the golf business to try his hand at insurance. He was hired by McCrate as an assistant professional at South Lakes in 2022 and quickly moved over to become the head professional at LaFortune Park where he was McCrate’s understudy for the past year.

So while he has worked at a number of excellent pubic and private courses, Stewart will have his skeptics as to whether he is ready for the responsibilities inherent in running an operation of this size and scope. It’s a challenge he welcomes and knows he will have to prove himself going forward.

“I know I’ve got major shoes to fill,” Stewart said. “This operation is a well-oiled machine that Pat and Jerry Jones before him put their heart and soul into. Pat told me numerous times how much the LaFortune Park family and this golf course meant to him. It’s a great honor and responsibility. There are not too many golf operations out there that have this status.”

That status is a result of McCrate’s love for all aspects of golf and serving his customers but also his well-earned reputation as a hard-nosed and astute businessman looking out for the best interests of his company and Tulsa County. The difference between being a head professional and owner of such an operation is a vast one but one that Stewart said he is confident he can grow into rapidly.

“I’m a big believer in fate and this is not the ideal way to come into a role like this but I’m thankful I got the opportunity to work for Pat and he trusted me to help run this operation,” Stewart said. “I’m glad I’m here to help carry on his legacy.”

Stewart and his wife Courtney have two children, daughter Palmer, 5, and son Payne, 2. Palmer was named for his father’s favorite golfer Arnold Palmer and Payne Stewart was a favorite of Josh as a boy.

“Pat was never about how much money he could make, he was about how he could best serve the golf community and offer the best products and services available,” Stewart said. “I want to keep that legacy going. In my opinion there are not many operations that have been run better than this one.”

If all goes as expected, it will soon be up to Stewart to make certain that continues.


 

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Ken MacLeod

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