Some families pass down antique vases, property, scrapbooks or top-secret recipes. Kristen LaCount inherited a country club.
LaCount, the general manager/COO at The Country Club in Brookline, is the third generation in her family to work at the historic club, and the first woman to lead the club in its 138-year history. The course will host the U.S. Open from June 16-19.
Her mother grew up just across the street from the club, in Buttonwood Village, working weekends at the front desk throughout college while LaCount’s grandmother worked in the club’s business office. LaCount’s father started as a dishwasher, quickly working his way up to become TCC’s youngest executive chef, a position he held for decades.
“We had one car in our family, so we’d come over and pick up dad at the back delivery area, and we’d be sitting on milk crates with a bowl of peppermint stick ice cream waiting for him to finish up work,” LaCount recalled. “So the club was always extremely present in my life.”
There’s a common trope of executives starting in the mailroom and working their way to the top. For LaCount, it was the club’s snack bar, where she got her start as a young teenager in the mid-1990s.
“It really was my first taste of interacting with staff and learning how to manage people, and that was probably a huge point for me … that just reinforced that this is the industry that I wanted to be in,” LaCount said. “It wasn’t just about food and beverage and service and golf, and all those things. It was really about the personal connections that you make.”
Fresh out of college, she saw a job offer fall through and, on her father’s recommendation, met with former TCC General Manager David Chag for some career advice.
“Mr. Chag, David, took me under his wing and said, ‘What do you think about learning a little bit of the front of the house and the management side?’” LaCount recalled.
With Chag as her mentor, LaCount buried herself in the work and rose through the ranks. By the time the club hosted the 2013 U.S. Amateur Golf Championship, she knew she wanted a future in club management. And TCC, with its large membership and sprawling, college campus-like grounds, captured her heart.
She was made TCC’s first-ever assistant general manager, raised as Chag’s eventual successor. And she made her home in Brookline with her husband, Prairie Fire restaurateur Dan Kerrigan, and their two children.
The Country Club of Brookline in Boston, Massachusetts. Photo by Stephen Munday/Getty Images
Of his mentee, Chag said LaCount’s personality and work ethic made her a natural leader.
“She has an incredible work ethic and enthusiasm and personality that’s infectious, so others tend to want to work with her,” he said. “People enjoy being around her.”
Now, nearly two decades after she first joined the club full-time, LaCount has taken the reins.
“She just struck us that she was the best person for the job, so much so that we decided not to do a search, but just to directly hire her,” said TCC President Lyman Bullard.
He added, “I think she has been preparing for this job her whole life, and she has just jumped right into it with great energy, enthusiasm and leadership.”
LaCount, who took office in October of 2020, had her work cut out for her amid a pandemic, Bullard said.
“As you can imagine, in a COVID world, there are no dull months in any organization, anywhere,” he said. “I think she has everybody on the staff ready to be as creative and flexible as we need to be to make it a fun winter experience for our members.”
For her part, LaCount said she plans to maintain the stability the club saw under Chag’s leadership, even as TCC navigates high-profile projects and events, like the 2022 U.S. Open.
Chag, who is still with TCC in a senior advisor role at the club. but took a step back after 33 years on the job, said it has been “rewarding” to watch LaCount take the helm.
“To step back and watch someone else take it on, I do it with pride, because it’s an individual that was trained here and was ready to do it, so there’s a great deal of pride in it,” he said.
As the first woman to lead TCC, Bullard said, LaCount is continuing her record of paving the way for women in the club management world, a typically male-dominated industry.
“She earned it,” he said. “She was developed over a long period of time; she worked her way up and she completely earned it.”
The significance of being the club’s first female GM is not lost on LaCount.
Arnold Palmer Ligonier, Pa., winner of the U.S. Open golf championship in 1960, watches his tee shot on the first hole at The Country Club, June 20, 1963, in Brookline, Mass., at the start of the 1963 USGA Open.
“It comes with a great deal of responsibility, in my mind,” she said. “I have a daughter now. That, to me, comes with a whole other set of responsibilities for setting an example, whether it’s the next generation of club managers or the next generation of professionals, period, in any industry.”
But at the end of the day, she said, “There’s a part of me that always says, you want the best person for the job, and what is first and most important to me is that I was the most qualified person for this job.”
And do her children have any plans to join the family business?
“I did ask [my daughter] one day what she wanted to be when she grows up, and we haven’t gotten very far, other than that she wants to do gymnastics,” LaCount said, laughing.
With LaCount in club management and her husband in the restaurant industry, she described theirs as a “hospitality family,” one for whom working nights, weekends and holidays is just part of the norm.
“My husband and I just couldn’t be happier doing what we do,” she said. “If either of our children decides that they want to take this path, they will have nothing but support from their parents. But if they don’t, that’s OK too. As cliche as it sounds, every parent just wants to make sure that their kids are doing what they’re passionate about.”
(Editor’s note: This story originally ran on Nov. 10, 2020, in the Brookline Tab, and was edited to include the current title of Chag. Abby Patkin is a reporter for the MetroWest Daily News, part of the USA Today Network.)