November 25, 2016
Remembering Women’s Golf Pioneer Peggy Kirk Bell
Women’s golf pioneer Peggy Kirk Bell, a member of the 1950 USA Curtis Cup team, winner of the 1990 Bob Jones Award and ambassador for the game, died Nov. 23 at age 95.
Born Margaret Anne Kirk on Oct. 28, 1921 in Ohio, Bell cited her father as a strong early influence.
“My dad made a lot of money in the wholesale grocery business,” Bell told Golf Digest in 2010. “Financially, we were comfortable, but he made us work. He paid me 10 cents an hour, but the other two women got 20 cents an hour. When I asked him why, he said, ‘Because you’re the boss’ daughter.’ 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.”
From those early days all the way into her 90s, Bell rarely stopped working. In a lifetime in the game, she compiled an outstanding record as an amateur in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and was a charter member of the LPGA.
She then became renowned as masterful instructor and the owner/proprietor of Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in North Carolina, where she is largely credited with being the driving force behind Pine Needles’ hosting of three U.S. Women’s Open Championships – in 1996, 2001 and 2007.
Pine Needles was also selected by the USGA as one of the first two host sites of the U.S. Senior Women’s Open Championship, which debuts in 2018 and will be held at Pine Needles in 2019.
Bell received the USGA’s Bob Jones Award in 1990 for distinguished sportsmanship and service to the game, and was later a member of the Bob Jones Award Committee.
In 2007 she was named the “First Lady of Golf” by the PGA of America.
Bell was best known as an instructor. She won the 1961 LPGA Teacher of the Year Award and in 2004 was inducted into the Golf Magazine World Golf Teacher Hall of Fame.
“She supported juniors, she helped touring pros, she was there for seniors, she was there for women. She was there for the game,” said past USGA president Judy Bell (no relation). “I don’t know anyone who loved the game more than she did. She was an icon.”
In 1950 Bell was selected for the USA Curtis Cup Team, which was captained by Glenna Collett Vare. In the match at the Country Club of Buffalo in New York, she lost in foursomes with her partner Helen Sigel, who became a lifelong friend, but won her singles match against Jeanne Bisgood, 1 up. The USA defeated Great Britain and Ireland, 7½-1½.
Bell turned professional in 1950, enjoying a contract with the Spalding Sporting Goods Company that paid her $10,000 annually, $50 a day for exhibitions and 6 cents a mile for travel. For a few years she became the only player to pilot her own airplane.
A few years ago, the late two-time U.S. Amateur champion Harvie Ward summed up his friend: “She’s a great lady and I’ve never heard anyone say a bad word about Peggy Kirk Bell. They can’t.”
-NCGA Staff w/ USGA