This weekend, the PGA Tour returned to one of my favorite spots, Muirfield Village Golf Club in Columbus, for the Memorial Tournament.
And while Jack Nicklaus appropriately plays host to the world’s best players, you may not be aware that a man with a Youngstown background holds a key position in making sure the event goes just right.
Nicholas LaRocca, a third generation of Youngstown’s LaRocca family, is following in the family footsteps of country club management and serves as the general manager and corporate operations officer of Muirfield Village Golf Club.
The story of the LaRocca family’s ties to some of the nation’s most prestigious country clubs begins with Evelino and Bertha LaRocca. Together, the LaRoccas had four boys — Pat, Henry, Joe and Richard. And while Evelino eventually made a living at Youngstown Country Club on the Superintendent’s staff, it was his boys who eventually climbed the country club ladder.
My personal connection is with the third son, Joe. In high school and college, I knew Joe as the always-welcoming general manager at Youngstown Country Club. And since 2009, I have been lucky enough to see Joe regularly at The Lake Club, where he serves as chief operating officer.
General Manager of YCC and COO of The Lake Club certainly makes Joe one of the most respected club executives in our region. But he is not the only well-known LaRocca in his field. Here’s their (very brief) story.
Joe’s oldest brother Pat started at YCC as a caddy. When I asked Joe at what age, he said “young ... I started caddying at YCC when I was 11.”
So let’s just stick with “young” as a starting point.
From there, Pat worked his way up to chef, and then eventually to general manager. From YCC, Pat moved on to some other clubs you may have heard of; Oakmont in Pennsylvania (approximately 1981-1997), Muirfield Village, Inverness in Toledo, Arizona for a few years and now Lake Merced Golf Club just outside of San Francisco. If that club sounds familiar, it may be because the LPGA was there last month for the LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship.
After Pat, Joe’s older brother Henry, no longer in the business, caddied at YCC as a junior.
Next up was Joe, who started as a caddy at YCC at age 11. From there, he moved to the kitchen staff, eventually becoming a waiter, then a bartender, then a manager, and eventually the general manager of the entire club.
And last but certainly not least, youngest brother Richard started at YCC in the maintenance barn around 1978. A graduate of Youngstown State University, Richard’s career continued to advance as he became the GM at Allegheny Country Club, then Kirtland Country Club, and eventually the GM and COO of The Country Club of Orlando. In 2017 Richard was named the “Club Executive of the Year” by the Club Managers Association of America (CMAA), one of the highest honors bestowed on a club executive.
On their own, the four LaRocca brothers have touched the lives of more country club members — and employees — than one can count. But the story doesn’t end with their success.
Pat’s two boys — Nicholas and Jon Anthony — basically grew up learning the country club management business from their father while he was GM of Oakmont, one of golf’s most storied country clubs. From Uncle Joe’s descriptions, they would have excelled in any field; but come on, what fun would that be?
Today, Jon Anthony is the general manager of Plainfield Country Club in Edison, N.J. And Nicholas is the general manager and corporate operations officer of Muirfield Village Golf Club. One quick Internet search and it was easy to find some hefty praise for the youngest LaRocca executives.
In 2013, Nicklaus expanded the clubhouse at Muirfield Village to more adequately meet the needs and expectations of a “top 20 in the world” club. His quote when the renovation was over just prior to the 2013 Memorial; “Without Nicholas, we wouldn’t have a roof over our heads.”
For any of us who pay attention to local golf ... or business... or philanthropy ... or heck, just about anything related to our Valley and our area’s growth, we’re well aware of the fine eye and attention to detail had by Ed Muransky. As owner and CEO of The Lake Club, Muransky echoed Nickalus’ praise of the LaRoccas.
“Country Club Management Royalty” was his immediate response when I texted him the topic of this week’s column.
“We all knew Joe from Youngstown Country Club. Even if you weren’t a member, Joe knew your name, what you drank, and always made you feel at home.”
Through our conversation it was evident how much respect Muransky has for the entire LaRocca family. And while he thought this column would “open a lot of eyes” to the LaRocca family’s success, it was the family’s humbleness that Muransky focused on.
He recalled the time Jack Nicklaus flew to Youngstown for a dinner program at The Lake Club. Waiting for him upon their arrival, Muransky was surprised when Joe’s nephew Nicholas LaRocca de-planed from Golden Bear 1 with Nicklaus. When asked about it, Joe matter of factly replied, “Oh yeah, Nicholas is the general manager of Muirfield Village.”
This week I asked Joe if it was OK to highlight his family’s success. And while he welcomed the opportunity to talk about his family, it was how he kept talking about things outside of golf that struck me most.
He was sure to recognize and thank the accepting wives who have embraced the special roles their husbands have within our game; Marie (Pat), Kathy (Joe) and Christine (Richard).
And he was especially thankful for his parents.
“Mom and dad taught us hospitality the old-fashioned way. Now we’re all in it.”
As far as life lessons go, he again referred back to Evelino and Bertha.
“Family first. They always taught us family first.”
Well Joe, when employees look up to managers like family members and members feel like their country club is a second home, the LaRocca family must have one of the largest “golf families” of all time.
Jonah Karzmer is a former golf professional who writes a Sunday golf column for The Vindicator. In his spare time he sells commercial insurance and loves getting feedback on his weekly columns via email at Jonah@thekarzmerinsurance.com.