Locals in the tiny town of Southern Pines were worried. The U.S. Women’s Open was coming to Pine Needles Golf Club, and residents weren’t sure they were ready for the spotlight. “There was plenty of doubt among the locals and around the state that the 1996 U.S. Women’s Open would succeed,” reported the Winston-Salem Journal.
They shouldn’t have fretted: Peggy Kirk Bell was at the wheel. The amateur legend, charter member of the LPGA, Major Champion and decorated teaching pro owned and operated Pine Needles with her husband, Warren, and she personally made sure the event was a smash hit. Annika Sorenstam rolled to the second of her 10 career major championships that week and knew the secret to its success.
“The thing I remember the most is Peggy and how she took me in and I even stayed with her,” Sorenstam later told the Winston-Salem Journal. “Her and her family riding around in the cart that week is something I’ll never forget. They seemed to always be near where I was playing and I appreciated that so much.”
Sorenstam wasn’t the only one who had a great time at Bell’s North Carolina golf mecca. The USGA brought the U.S. Women’s Open back to Pine Needles in 2001 and 2007 and is taking it there for a fourth time in 2022.
“I grew up believing it's important to teach kids to work early on. If you start them young, they'll learn to enjoy work.” -Peggy Kirk Bell
Those events are just part of Bell’s seven-decade legacy in the game. She was golf royalty – one of the very few people in the history of the sport who could call luminaries from Babe Zaharias to Ben Hogan to Arnold Palmer to Jack Nicklaus to Annika Sorenstam friends.
“Bell was the personal embodiment of the history of golf,” wrote Luke DeCock of the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. “She knew everyone, lived through everything, quickly earned the respect of everyone who met her, the kind of person who knew Donald Ross and could talk about offhand comments Herbert Warren Wind used to make—about her.”
Bell made an impact on nearly every facet of the women’s game since she burst onto the amateur scene in the 1940s, winning three Ohio Women’s Amateur championships in her home state. She added North and South Women’s Amateur and Eastern Amateur titles to her resume and capped the decade off by winning the 1949 Titleholders Championship, then considered a women’s Major.
She made the 1950 U.S. Curtis Cup team, then turned pro. But after compiling one of the women’s game’s most glittering amateur resumes, she wasn’t interested in grinding it out on the newly formed LPGA As such, she wasn’t technically a founder of the LPGA (she was welcomed early on as a charter member) and never won on the tour in the limited events she played. Her focus was on growing the game in other areas, specifically at Pine Needles – which she and her husband purchased in 1953 – and in teaching the game.
And what an impact she had. Because she was Peggy Kirk Bell, she learned a proper grip from Hogan and taught it to countless students for decades. She opened one of the country’s first golf schools at Pine Needles, and her lessons specifically for women, dubbed “Golfaris,” continue today. In 2007, she lent her name to the Peggy Kirk Bell Girls Golf Tour, which offers girls in the Carolinas the opportunity to play top competition and learn the game.
Among her myriad honors, Bell is a member of seven Halls of Fame, including the LPGA Teacher and Club Pro Hall, and she was the first woman inducted into both the World Golf Teachers Hall and the PGA Golf Instructors Hall of Fame. It was no surprise in 1990 when she was given the Bob Jones Award, the USGA’s highest honor.
Accolades and tributes from all over the golf world poured out when Bell passed away at 95 in 2016, and LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan summed things up well when he tweeted Bell was, “One of the women [who] truly set the standard that we have tried to follow for 66 yrs.”