At the Top of Her Game

By Jessica Marksbury

| Jun 14, 2022 | BROOKLINE, MASS.

At the Top of Her Game

Kristen LaCount’s connection to The Country Club is long and deep

The following content was first published in Golf Journal, a quarterly print and monthly digital publication exclusively for USGA Members. To be among the first to receive Golf Journal and to learn how you can help make golf more open for all, become a USGA Member today.

Kristen LaCount has two framed photos on her desk that she looks at every day. In one, LaCount and her younger sister, Tricia, ages 6 and 5, faces dusted with flour, smile from the kitchen of The Country Club, the historic venue in Brookline, Mass., that opened in 1882.

The other photo, decades old, features a woman standing proudly on the club’s Locker Building Terrace. That woman is LaCount’s paternal grandmother, Anne, one of several people in her family to be employed by the storied club. The photos are a daily reminder of LaCount’s roots, and the remarkable legacy that she is carrying forward.

LaCount, who became The Country Club’s general manager and chief operating officer in 2020, is the first woman to hold the position. Now, she’s preparing for the highest-profile event of her career, the 122nd U.S. Open Championship, which in June will be played at The Country Club for the fourth time, and first since 1988.

It’s a proud moment for LaCount, not only because of the U.S. Open’s prestige, but also because of her deep respect for the game’s history and traditions. LaCount likely boasts the deepest connection to her club of any GM. The Country Club isn’t merely where she works. It’s the place she has called home for as long as she can remember.

The story of LaCount’s rise at The Country Club is worthy of a Hollywood script. As those photos on her desk hint, she’s the third generation of her family to work there.

Both LaCount’s maternal and paternal grandmothers had stints working at the club, and her father, Steve, who grew up in West Roxbury, a nearby Boston neighborhood, was busing tables by age 15. LaCount’s mother, Michelle, ran the front desk, operating the switchboard as she studied for her high school finals. Michelle grew up right across the street, in the same neighborhood as Francis Ouimet, the young amateur who thrust the game – and The Country Club – into the national spotlight when he beat Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in a playoff to win the 1913 U.S. Open. It is an achievement still regarded as the championship’s most shocking and historic. 

Michelle and Steve met at The Country Club when they were 18 years old. They were married within two years and welcomed LaCount and her sister soon after that.

“Some of my best childhood memories have taken place here,” LaCount says of the club, citing annual employee ice skating nights and pool days that continue as mainstays to this day.

LaCount also has fond memories of noshing on peppermint stick ice cream or macaroons – longtime club specialties – with her sister while the girls waited for their dad to finish work in the club kitchen. Steve LaCount became The Country Club’s youngest-ever executive chef in 1983, a post he maintained until he left to open his own restaurant in 2005.

A self-described “hospitality kid,” service is in LaCount’s blood. Her husband, Dan Kerrigan, whom she met, naturally, at The Country Club when he worked as the maître d’, became a restaurateur himself, and LaCount says even her young children, daughter Tenley and son Sam, enjoy setting the table.

Kristen Lacount

Kristen Lacount has deep roots to The Country Club, a place where her maternal and paternal grandmothers worked. (USGA/Damian Strohmeyer)

LaCount grew up with ambitions of following her father’s footsteps – not necessarily at The Country Club, but as a chef. In fact, she had a chef de cuisine gig lined up at a restaurant set to open in Connecticut right after she graduated from college in 2003, but the investors backed out. LaCount was distraught, but there was a front-of-house job waiting for her at The Country Club under longtime GM David Chag, and she jumped at the opportunity.

Chag, whose tenure at The Country Club stretched 33 years, was the person responsible for giving LaCount’s father his start as the club’s chef. The LaCount family’s bond with him runs deep. LaCount credits Chag for establishing the warm, family vibe that came to define the employee and club culture.

“The membership is so genuinely interested in knowing the staff’s names, knowing their family stories,” LaCount says. “There’s a connection there. It’s a cultural thing. The history of the club sets the tone for that, and the membership feels very protective of it.”

Over the course of her nearly two-decade career at The Country Club, LaCount served in several roles, but when Chag appointed her to a newly created position, assistant general manager, in 2013, it became apparent that getting the top job at some point was a possibility. That year also marked an important moment for the club: the return of the U.S. Amateur Championship, the club’s highest-profile event since the raucous 1999 Ryder Cup, and the first USGA championship since the 1995 U.S. Women’s Amateur.

The 2013 U.S. Amateur enabled a new generation to experience the electricity of a national championship and provided the opportunity to showcase the course as a worthy site for a future U.S. Open. LaCount was enthralled. And in 2015, when The Country Club was given the official nod for the 2022 U.S. Open, it felt like she was destined to be a part of it. In 2020, after Chag decided to step down, the club’s board interviewed LaCount and arrived at a unanimous vote. She was the obvious choice.

“Kristen earned the opportunity,” Chag says. “She constantly wanted to grow professionally and be tested. She was willing to rise to the occasion and match any challenge.”

Chag noted one instance that he found particularly impressive regarding LaCount’s drive to learn. When The Country Club’s team was on-site to observe the operation of the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, Chag says LaCount got up every day at 3 a.m. so she could attend the grounds crew meeting, simply because she wanted to understand what was involved.

“To me, that was an illustration of her commitment, and her interest in the industry, not just the management end of it,” Chag says.

Chag maintains a role as senior advisor at the club. He and LaCount have a standing Friday breakfast meeting where they trade advice and bounce ideas off each other. And these days, there’s pretty much one topic top of mind: The U.S. Open. 

On the day we visit with LaCount in The Country Club’s first floor living room, which features a floor-to-ceiling view of the course, it’s 28 degrees outside. The sky is a melancholy gray, and snow flurries are swirling. The grounds are empty, and the grandstands have yet to be constructed. It’s hard to imagine that the buzz of a national championship is less than three months away. But course prep is about to kick into overdrive, and LaCount is brimming with enthusiasm for what’s to come. Her daily schedule is packed with meetings – not just with club staff, but also public safety officials and community leaders.

The onslaught of tasks and to-do lists required of a GM at any top-level club is enough to make your head spin, even without the addition of a national championship, but it’s an environment in which LaCount thrives.

“It’s a huge job. It’s 365, 24 hours a day,” LaCount says. “Everything’s moving 100 miles an hour all the time. But I have the energy for it, I have the passion for it. I love it.”

Relationship-building and facilitating communication between multiple parties, from the USGA to the membership and various club committees to the local community and the general public, are LaCount’s top priorities.

“Presence is key,” she says. “For me, it’s making sure that you’re constantly making those rounds, being here at the beginning and staying until the end, and making sure that people feel supported.”

Part of LaCount’s challenge in both the lead-up to and aftermath of the U.S. Open is to ensure that member access will be as unfettered as possible. The Country Club is a full-service facility, which means everything else doesn’t shut down in deference to golf. Some facilities will remain open throughout championship week. LaCount expects to spend her time ensuring a flawless on-site experience for both her members and U.S. Open competitors, as well as supporting the delegation of volunteers.

“I’m the gatekeeper of the club,” she says. “You can’t lose sight and get caught up in the championship level too much, because you’re here to take care of this club, and the infrastructure that will still be in place many, many years beyond that week.”

As a woman with the highest- level role at one of the world’s top clubs, LaCount has few female peers, and the numbers are even smaller if you count women raising young families – something LaCount hopes is slowly changing. One huge barrier tends to be the notion that management and raising kids are mutually exclusive things, but LaCount is proof that it’s possible.

LaCount organizes her life in three-month segments – a trick she learned from Chag – and says living on-site and having a supportive family network help enormously. But she also believes that the example she and her husband set of working with purpose and passion is ultimately the greatest gift they can give their children.

“If my children see that both of us are passionate about what we do, and successful as a result because we love what we do first, I think the other stuff comes later,” LaCount says.

Diversity, equity and inclusion are big priorities for LaCount, and years ago, she and her husband got involved with the Brookline Teen Center, which aims to provide a safe, nurturing space for local teenagers. They frequently provide dinners for the kids on-site, and LaCount has recruited several of them to work at the club.

“When I’m here at night it’s a perfect time to spend five minutes with them, ask them about home, what they are thinking,” LaCount says. “And see if I can get them hooked into hospitality. What’s great about this industry is if you have a personality, a smile, and it looks like you enjoy what you’re doing, we can probably teach you the rest.”

Perhaps the upcoming U.S. Open will light a fire in one of LaCount’s proteges, just as experiencing the U.S. Amateur did for her.

LaCount is already trying to prepare herself and her staff for the inevitable post-U.S. Open letdown. The “hangover” period is filled with administrative minutiae such as resuming a typical event schedule for members, refilling the club’s pool for a July opening and reinstalling the tennis courts.

But one of the best things about The Country Club, LaCount says, is that it never stands still. Once the crowds disperse, LaCount will begin tackling the biggest capital project in the club’s history: clubhouse renovation.

The club is also serious about its partnership with the USGA and, under LaCount’s leadership, looks forward to welcoming future championships.

“Let’s talk about what’s next,” she says with a smile. “I’m ready.”