Brookline’s Fernando Figueroa concocts his famous “Fernando.”
Muirfield Village has its famous milkshakes. Pine Valley its signature snapper soup. Olympic Club its burger dogs. Augusta National its pimento cheese sandwiches.
The Country Club has its “Fernando.”
Clubs are always searching for something distinctive that stands out with its members and guests as such a favorite that it becomes a fixture. Some foods or beverages evolve into staples that no visit to these clubs would be complete without partaking in its iconic menu item. On rare occasions, something becomes so identifiable that it takes on the name of its creator. For instance, everyone knows that iced tea mixed with lemonade is an “Arnold Palmer.”
Arnold Palmer, of course, is a celebrity brand name recognized the world over. Fernando Figueroa, however, isn’t famous beyond the campus of The Country Club at Brookline, Massachusetts. But his name will be remembered there as long as Francis Ouimet thanks to a post-round libation that is hard to beat after a long day playing golf – or tennis or curling or shooting skeet for that matter.
“A Fernando is the first thing you learn how to make,” said Patrick Laxton, the assistant general manager at The Country Club. “If you’ve never bartended before or you are a long-standing bartender, they make you learn the Fernando before they teach you anything else when you bartend here. If you don’t know that, you’re not going to last here very long.”
How Brookline’s most popular drink came to be known by the name of the club’s locker room attendant (now manager) is a story in itself.
The sweet rum cocktail was once a forgettable item on the TCC drink menu until Figueroa started tinkering with the recipe about 30 years ago. A native of Guatemala, Figueroa began working at The Country Club on Easter week in 1990, having gotten the job there two years after his wife, Arminda, had started working there in housekeeping.
Figueroa – who worked nights at Weston Golf Club before former TCC general manager David Chag offered him a permanent full-time job as a locker room attendant – didn’t know the first thing about alcohol when he started working with the club’s former curling master Dale Lewis, who managed the locker room during the summers.
“He started teaching me how to make drinks because he needs some time off for lunch or dinner and that’s how I started,” said Figueroa. “I didn’t know anything from gin, vodka or rum or even the names of beers, but he teach me everything.”
Figueroa doesn’t drink himself, but he has a good nose for spirits and learned to differentiate the various drinks by smell. What he did know was that nobody enjoyed drinking the rum float he was taught how to mix.
“This drink, I gotta tell the story about it, this drink was made with Bacardi rum, sweet and sour mix, a touch of simple syrup, soda water and Goslings on top,” Figueroa said. “But at that time, nobody liked it. They was asking for it but not many people will like it.”
“The members like the strong taste of rum in the beginning but Goslings doesn’t have that taste and I change it to Myers’s Rum. As soon as you taste it, you feel the heat.” – Fernando Figueroa
Seeing an obvious problem with customer satisfaction, Fernando started experimenting with the various ingredients at his disposal, differentiating the potential appeal not by tasting samples but by smelling them.
“I noticed Mount Gay rum was very sweet; when you smell the Mount Gay rum, you know, the brain very easy to smell the sugar,” he said.
So Fernando switched the Bacardi to Mount Gay and started making his own sour mix with a little egg white in it (to make it frothier and richer) and followed the rest of the rum float recipe as he was taught, shaking it together before adding the Goslings rum on top.
But it still wasn’t quite right.
“The members like the strong taste of rum in the beginning but Goslings doesn’t have that taste and I change it to Myers’s Rum,” he said of the finishing ingredient that goes along with a garnish of cherry and an orange slice. “As soon as you taste it, you feel the heat.”
The locker room attendant, still pretty new to his job, wasn’t about to spring his new concoction on the membership without permission.
“They said go ahead,” he said. “And when I present this drink to the members, it was a big hit.”
Now the rum float was something the members came to treasure. Two of its most diehard fans went on a golf trip to Scotland in 1995 as guests of another club. While the Scots were boasting of a signature drink its membership enjoyed, the TCC gentlemen weren’t fully impressed.
Figueroa retells the origin story: “They say, ‘This is a good drink but nothing is compared with the Fernando.’ They ask, ‘What is the Fernando?’ They say whenever you come to The Country Club, we’re going to give you a taste on that.
“And in around the fall of ’95, a group of members came from that country club (in Scotland) and another one from England. And they told me, ‘Fernando we need that you prepare some of those drinks to these guys.’ And I prepare for them, and my God it was a big hit with these gentlemen.”
And thus, Fernando’s rum float became simply the “Fernando.”
“They travel everywhere and they spread the word,” Fernando said. “They tell me, ‘Fernando, we’re going to make famous this drink because it’s a great drink.’ And that’s how they changed to my name. And I feel very proud. That’s how that drink was born, and now that has become the drink of The Country Club. You know the tradition is friendly with all the members and I feel so proud to be part of that.”
Fernando still doesn’t drink his creation, however.
“Actually, I try it, but I’m not a big drinker,” he said. “The members say, ‘Fernando, how could you possibly don’t drink it?’ For me, one drink and I start shaking around.”
Fernando and his wife, Arminda, originally intended to work in the United States for 10 years, but they ended up settling into careers at The Country Club. Neither knew any English when they arrived but learned it on the job. Arminda has been the head of housekeeping for more than 20 years and Fernando has been the locker room manager since the late 1990s when his predecessor got married and returned home to Canada. They have two grown children – Fernando and Natalie – who’ve graduated college and a 4-year-old granddaughter.
The running joke between the Figueroas and Kristen LaCount, the club’s general manager and COO, is that the drink bears the wrong name.
“She got Fernando the job here, so I always tell Fernando his biggest mistake was not naming that drink ‘Arminda’ after his wife,” LaCount said.
Laxton said that a membership survey last year revealed that the club serves roughly 6,000 Fernandos a year. In the annual Squirrels Tournament at the club, the most Fernandos served in one day was 530.
His rum cocktail is not the only specialty that Fernando serves. The Figueroas still have a home in Guatemala where Fernando exercises his true passion – growing coffee.
“We have a small coffee farm over there,” he said. “We went back before they close the country for the pandemic and we were stuck there for six months. We decide now to build a small bed and breakfast over there. We are under way with that project. For the future, you know, my wife and I we try to at least have something when we retire and something we they can keep us busy.”
“Well, this is a beautiful place to work in. The members are so nice. They make me feel like a part of the family.” – Fernando Figueroa
When Fernando returns from Guatemala, he’ll brew some of his own oak-roasted coffee beans for the TCC members on the opening day of golf season. “They like it. Even the English guys love it,” he said.
So the Figueroas remain such fixtures at The Country Club they are part of the Brookline family. Fernando even learned how to play golf 10 years ago.
“After 22 years I started playing golf,” he said. “It was very sad at the beginning because I wasn’t able to touch the ball. But yeah, after 10 years, I was able to break the 100.”
In his three decades with the club, Fernando has gotten close with everyone who comes through the historic (and recently renovated and expanded) locker building.
“Well, this is a beautiful place to work in. The members are so nice. They make me feel like a part of the family,” he said. “And I feel so sad because a lot of people over the years, they one by one are disappearing. Every one of them they make a little history in my heart that I keep it in my heart and in my mind.”
The Fernando isn’t likely to be on the concession menu when the U.S. Open returns to The Country Club for the first time in 34 years – two years before Fernando started working there. But if you have the right access, Fernando will be happy to mix you one himself.
“Well, this drink is for the club,” he said. “In the recipe it’s no secret. The secret is how you make it. You know, when you make it with passion, a drink, and for people you care about it, that is the secret. We can’t make it in jars because one by one is how they make it.”
Top photo: Courtesy The Country Club
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