When she was growing up in Norwood, Kristen LaCount wanted to be a cook, like her father. She got her first set of knives from Santa when she was 16 and soon began entering cooking competitions. For college, she chose Johnson & Wales and seemed well on her way to a culinary career.
Instead, with the 122nd US Open bearing down on Boston, LaCount is the general manager and chief operating officer of The Country Club, which is hosting the championship. Yes, that country club, the oldest country club in the country, founded in 1882, and one of the most revered. She is the first female GM in the country club’s 140-year history.
The Country Club, one of five founding members of the United States Golf Association, boasts a golf course drenched in history. From amateur Francis Ouimet’s stunning victory in the 1913 US Open to the US team’s boisterous Ryder Cup triumph in 1999, the course has been the backdrop for some of the most exciting golf in the last century and a half.
The club is traditional and exclusive. Women were not admitted as full members until 1989, but dual-career households are now common and the club puts an emphasis on families. Gendered spaces no longer exist: no men’s grille, no limiting women to morning rounds of golf.
Are women treated equally at TCC?
“With a woman as the general manager?” LaCount laughs and raises an eyebrow. “I think it speaks volumes that [women] stand on their own as members. The way that we welcome them is that every family who’s here is part of the club community; it’s a family environment.
“Whether it’s me or other employees, we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t an amazing environment to be a part of and really be respected.”
It certainly is all about family for LaCount. She spent her childhood at the club, helping the executive chef — her father — in the kitchen during busy times, rolling chocolate truffles and making gingerbread houses for the clubhouse at Christmas. By the time she was a teenager, she was working at the pool’s snack bar, making burgers and frappes.
No need for dating apps in the LaCount family; the club has served as matchmaker. LaCount’s parents met while working there. So too did LaCount and her husband, Dan Kerrigan, the club’s former maitre d’ who now owns restaurants in Brookline and Milton. Except for scattered restaurant gigs while she was in college, it’s the only place LaCount has ever worked.
“It’s not common to see someone stay in one place such a long time, but what made it easy was every year was so different,” said LaCount, who began as an assistant manager right out of college in 2003 and methodically worked her way through positions of increasing responsibility until she was the assistant GM.
She began to play golf more seriously in her 20s to build her appreciation for the game and so she could, as she put it, “hang” when she played with club or business colleagues. Now she encourages her employees to do the same.
“A big lightbulb went off for me in 2013 when we had a national championship here [the US Amateur],” said LaCount. “Experiencing that and what it it did for the club and the staff and me personally, that’s when I realized I wanted to be manager of a club that put on major championships.
“You’re on a high; think of the Marathon and what that does for the city. Being in Boston is special for anything sports-related. Literally any sport could come here and this community is going to get behind it and get excited for it.”
During the 2013 US Amateur, The Country Club got the nod to be host of the 2022 US Open.
“I get chills just thinking about it,” said LaCount, who has been preparing ever since.
When she’s not in a construction meeting or perhaps conferring with Brookline officials about traffic and parking, she’s out on the course with superintendent Dave Johnson, talking about grass types and soils, or meeting with one of TCC’s sport professionals (the club offers more than golf: there is tennis, swimming, skeet shooting, pond skating, and, of course, curling).
She balances her relentless work ethic with warmth and curiosity.
Two years ago, when longtime GM and LaCount’s mentor David Chag decided it was time to step down, LaCount knew she wanted to step up.
“We decided based on how long she had worked at the club [17 years] we would give her first crack at an interview for the job,” said club president Lyman Bullard. “She came in and was incredible and full of new ideas. She was the best person for the job. We weren’t trying to make history but we did.”
LaCount took charge in October of 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, with a major international event just more than a year away.
“She came into an environment that’s been historically male-dominated,” Chag said. “She’s a tenacious character. You aren’t going to roll over decisions [on her] without being questioned. She’s diplomatic but she stands on her own.
“She’s an incredible leader. I marvel at the fact that she can do this and raise a family.”
LaCount has a daughter and a son and lives with her family in a cottage in the middle of the golf course — which is great when you want to play a few holes on a warm July evening, but demanding because it leaves you on duty at every moment.
On June 16, some 156 golfers from around the world will converge on Brookline, and tens of thousands of spectators will follow them. TCC welcomes the US Open because it is proud of the club’s history and its significance to golf.
“This is the big leagues,” said LaCount, who will be under as much pressure as the golfers. “We’re opening the gates to the world. You want to make sure that we’re putting our best foot forward.”