ONE ON ONE | Pat LaRocca Singing the golfing praises of Muirfield, Mill Creek
What's your background?
After my father retired from the mill, my parents returned to East Brady. My dad, Evelino, passed away in June, 2001, at age 77. My mother, Bertha, is still in East Brady.
Where are your siblings?
I have three brothers. Henry lives in North Canton and has his own company. He graduated from East and Mount Union. Joe is the manager at Youngstown Country Club. He's an Ursuline and YSU grad. Richard is a graduate of Mooney and YSU and is manager at Allegheny C.C. in Sewickley, Pa.
What did you do after graduation?
When I left YSU, I was manager at Youngstown Country Club. In 1980, I got married. A year later, we moved to Oakmont C.C. in Pennsylvania where I was GM. Oakmont held the U.S. Open in 1983 and 1994 and the Women's U.S. Open in 1992. I was tournament director in 1992 and 1994. Then I went to work for Jack Nicklaus in 1997 at Muirfield Village Golf Club and The Memorial Tournament as chief operating officer. After six years, I got the opportunity at Inverness where we're going to host the U.S. Senior Open next year.
How did you get started?
I caddied at YCC since age 13 when I was in grade school at Immaculate Conception. Then I went inside and started working. At the time, YSU didn't have a hotel hospitality management program, so Dr. Ilajean Fieldmiller and Dr. Margaret Horvath tailored a curriculum for me in the Home Economics Department. My degree was a bachelor's of science in dietetics with a minor in marketing.
How'd the Oakmont job develop?
A gentleman from Oakmont was at YCC and liked what he saw and lured me away.
How'd you land at Muirfield?
Jack was impressed with what I was doing. There was an opportunity and he made an offer I couldn't refuse.
What does your job entail?
Everything. I look at myself as an orchestra conductor of a private club. The members write the music and I hold the baton and make sure all the instruments sound good.
You're close to the "who's who" in golf?
Yes, Arnold Palmer and his wife, Winnie, and Jack and Barbara Nicklaus and their families. Mrs. Palmer has since passed, but she was a wonderful lady. My son, Nicholas, is still at Muirfield working with the company.
What about Tiger Woods?
He was at all the tournaments at Muirfield. He's a gentleman and a true professional.
Any similarities between the courses?
They were all very difficult. Oakmont was Henry and Bill Fownes-designed and Muirfield, of course, was Jack Nicklaus-designed. Inverness is Donald Ross-designed and YCC is a Donald Ross redesign.
How many employees do you oversee?
Between 150 and 200.
Anything unique about each place?
YCC is near and dear to my heart because they gave me my original break and had faith in me to manage their club. Oakmont and Inverness are both rich in golf history and severity of course and Muirfield has the tradition.
How do our local courses stack up?
Mill Creek is one of the best-kept secrets in the world. I grew up on "Muny" and played high school matches there.
Obviously, you had a knack in the kitchen?
I got that from my mother and grandmother at an early age. I enjoy food preparation, being with good people and taking care of people.
How do you go from making lasagna to directing a tournament?
Being there and going through it. The first tournament in 1983 was kind of baptism-by-fire. It just came natural. It helped that I went to the 1981 and 1982 Opens to observe. Every year I went to the USGA annual meeting. This year I went to Caves Valley (Owings Mills, Md.) to observe the Senior Open. You never quit learning. I sit on the sectional affairs committee of the U.S. Golf Association, which entails advising them on various aspects of what's going on in my area.
What's your secret to success?
You have to always anticipate and be prepared and just want to make sure people are taken care of.
What's the most challenging part of your job?
Motivating people to take care of other people.
What are the hours?
All kinds -- 24/7.
How's your golf game?
I'm an 18 handicap. Not bad. I was better when I had more time to play.
You've been at quality clubs. Is this the end of the line?
I've been very fortunate with my career. I've been at the best and I do include Youngstown because that was a wonderful place. I figure this is where I'll hang my hat until, hopefully, I retire.
You've got a residence at Inverness?
It'll take a while to renovate, so it'll work out until my family moves.
It didn't take you long to find a friend in Toledo?
I had lunch with Henry DeMain. We were buddies since first grade. He was East High's quarterback in 1966 and 1967.
XJohn Bassetti, Vindicator sports writer, conducted this interview.