Memories of Peggy Kirk Bell, North Carolina golfing icon
Southern Pines golfing pioneer Peggy Kirk Bell died Nov 23 at age 95, sparking news stories from across the golfing world. Charlotte public relations executive Bill Hensley promoted Bell’s businesses for decades and shared a few memories in this column:
The game of golf lost one of its most ardent supporters with the death of Peggy Kirk Bell of Southern Pines, a pioneer of women’s golf, one of the nation’s top-rated teachers and promoters, and a talented player who made her mark in both amateur and professional golf.
I had the pleasure of working with her for more than 30 years, and she never ceased to amaze me with her dedication to the game. She literally lived and breathed golf, and spent every waking moment in some aspect of the game.
In addition to helping the women’s tour get started in the 1950s, she was one of the first teachers to establish golf schools. The schools became a popular reality at Pine Needles, the resort she owned with her late husband “Bullett,” in the early 60s. Known as “Golfaris,” the schools have been a regular feature for decades.
Peg was so wrapped up in golf that she would give an impromptu lesson, when asked, anytime in any place. Often she would stroll through the Pine Needles or Mid Pines dining rooms and would soon be seen making swings or grip changes to an eager diner who was frustrated with his game. And it was the same in golf shop, the locker room or the lobby. There was no out-of-bounds for golf lessons.
Over the years her friends in golf were numerous and included all the top names such as Babe Zaharias, Patty Berg, Annika Sorenstam, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Even basketball great Michael Jordan was a golfing buddy. But she seldom talked about them, except for Zaharias, who was her closest friend when they were on the LPGA tour.
Peg once told me the story of visiting Zaharias in the hospital when she was dying of cancer. “Babe asked me if I brought my clubs, and I told her no. She said that’s too bad because even though I’m dying I can still beat you.”
“And she probably could,” Mrs. Bell remarked. “She was the toughest competitor I ever played.”
On another occasion, Peg said that she and Babe were having dinner one night and the two faced each other in a tournament the next day. “You are awfully quiet tonight Peg,” Babe offered. “You’re not thinking about our match tomorrow are you?”
“I told her I was,” Peg explained. “Well, forget it,” she said emphatically. “You know I’m going to win.”
“And she did,” Mrs. Bell commented. “But I always gave it my best shot.”
When Mrs. Bell had her first child, a daughter, Babe begged her to name it after her. “Just think. With a name like Babe Bell she will be a holy terror on the links.” The bells named their new daughter Bonnie.
Throughout her career as a player, teacher and resort owner, Mrs. Bell was a recipient of numerous honors for her many outstanding contributions to golf, including the USGA’s Bobby Jones Award, the Golf Writers Association’s William Richardson Award, the LPGA’s Ellen Griffin Rolex Award, the National Golf Foundation’s Joe Graffis Award, and the National Golf Course Owners Order of Merit.
She was elected to seven Halls of Fame including both North Carolina and Ohio sports associations, the LPGA and the North Carolina Business Hall of Fame. The LPGA awarded Pine Needles three US Women’s Open tournaments due to Mrs. Bell’s involvement.
The game of golf and I have lost a dear friend. But anyone who knew her will have many fond memories. Peggy Kirk Bell was a winner.