Peggy Kirk Bell has been gone for nearly six years, but her spirit can be felt at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club.
The story of women’s golf can’t be told without giving a nod to Bell, the sport’s matriarch. A friend of legends Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Annika Sorenstam and Ben Hogan, Bell watched the growth of golf in real time and became a part of its storied history.
A member of seven Halls of Fame, Bell was the first woman inducted into both the World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame and PGA Golf Instructors Hall of Fame. In 1990, she was given the Bob Jones Award, the United States Golf Association’s highest honor.
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The power of Bell’s presence still resonates throughout Pine Needs, evidenced by the overwhelming references to her effect on the women’s game as the world’s best arrived in Southern Pines for the 2022 US Women’s Open in early June.
The Bell Pavilion was positioned between the first tee box and 18th green for the Women’s Open, offering fans a place to watch the action, and enjoy food and beverages.
Sorenstam, a 10-time major champion who won the 1996 US Women’s Open at Pine Needles, said Bell’s inspired her to make another appearance in Southern Pines this year.
“She was a great storyteller. I wish I could remember more stories,” Sorenstam said prior to this year’s Open.
“I have a lot of stories throughout my career, but she was just a great person and fun to be around. She had humor, and she was tough. She flew her own plane. … She was a trailblazer and a cool lady in so many ways.”
Long before Title IX came into effect in 1972, Bell made her impact felt as she burst onto the scene with a trio of amateur championships in her home state of Ohio. She added two more amateur titles to her resume and capped off the 1940s with a victory at the 1949 Titleholders Championship.
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She made the 1950 Curtis Cup team and then had a brief professional career. A charter member of the LPGA, which was founded in 1950, Bell’s true calling rested with growing the game.
She carried that passion to Pine Needles, where she taught countless students and quickly became synonymous with the Southern Pines venue.
Bell went on to start one of the first golf schools in the nation. The week-long practice sessions are called “Gulfaris.” They continue today at Pine Needles.
In 2019, three years after she died at the age of 95, Bell was voted posthumously into the World Golf Hall of Fame for her work as a pioneer in the sport.
“She would be almost apologizing for going in,” Bonnie Bell McGowan, one of Bell’s two daughters, said in a 2019 interview with The Fayetteville Observer.
“She would be humbled and almost embarrassed because she never thought she deserved any accolades, because she loved what she was doing.”
Bell was instrumental in getting the USGA to come to Pine Needs in 1996. The course had hosted a US Girls Junior and was in the midst of hosting the US Women’s Senior Amateur in 1991.
Twenty-six years after the USGA brought the Women’s Open to Pine Needles for the first time in 1996, the event returned for a record fourth time and saw Minjee Lee add her name to the list of prestigious champions.
Bell’s spirit and mission remain alive in the form of the Peggy Kirk Bell Girls Golf Tour, which was established in 2007. It has seen participation grow to more than 1,200 members with events featuring between 60 to 90 girls, according to the Tour’s website.
She may be gone, but Bell continues to grow the sport she loved most.
“Golf has been good to me and my family,” she said in 2013.
“It takes a lifetime to play it. Whoever introduced you to the game, you should thank them, because you’ll be able to play it forever.”
Staff writer Rodd Baxley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.