WINTER PARK, Fla. (November 24, 2016) – Rollins College is saddened to learn of the passing of alumnus Peggy Kirk Bell at the age of 95. Mrs. Bell was a 1943 graduate of the College, earning a degree in Physical Education. Known globally as the “First Lady of Golf” she was a pioneer of the sport and a charter member of the LPGA.
Since 1977, the Rollins women’s golf team has hosted the Peggy Kirk Bell Invitational as one of the nation’s premier early spring tournaments. The event stands as a lasting tribute to Mrs. Bell’s influence on the present and future of women’s golf.
SOUTHERN PINES — A pioneer of American golf has died at the age of 95.
Peggy Kirk Bell of Southern Pines died at her home Wednesday evening, November 23, surrounded by her family. Her death ends a colorful and distinguished career as one of golf’s best-known and most popular players, teachers and ambassadors. Her many contributions to the game were spread out over more than 70 years.
Mrs. Bell was born in Findlay, Ohio, Oct. 1921 to Grace and Robert Kirk. She took up golf as a teenager and was a protégé of Leonard Schmutte.
As an amateur golfer in the 1940s, she was one of the nation’s top players. She won the Ohio Women’s Amateur championship three times along with the famed North and South Amateur in Pinehurst. Other major titles were the Eastern Amateur and the Augusta Titleholders.
She attended Boston University’s Sargent College of Physical Education from 1939 to 1941, but transferred to Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., where she graduated in 1943 with a degree in Education. She became a legend at Rollins and the school holds an annual tournament named for her.
She holds honorary degrees from the University of Findlay, Methodist College and Sandhills Community College. The former Peggy Kirk married Warren (Bullet) Bell of Findlay in 1953. He was a former college and professional basketball player with the Ft. Wayne Pistons. The dashing, athletic couple came south the year of their marriage and purchased and restored the Pine Needles golf course in Southern Pines. After turning the course into a resort, the Bells began one of the country’s first golf schools, with Mrs. Bell as the featured instructor. The popular schools, known as Golfaris, continue today.
Mrs. Bell was a charter member and avid leader of the Ladies Professional Golf Association. An avid pilot, Peggy traveled the early years of the LPGA Tour flying her plane to play in tournaments and promote the LPGA.
As an amateur in 1947, she teamed with Babe Zaharias to win the International Four Ball Championship. She was a member of the USGA’s Curtis Cup team in 1950 and turned professional the same year. She signed a promotional contract with Spalding Sporting Goods Co. and played on the first professional Weathervane Team in 1952.
Throughout her career as a player, teacher and resort owner, Mrs. Bell was a tireless contributor to the game of golf. For her many outstanding contributions, she was a recipient of numerous prestigious honors and awards, 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 a member of seven Halls of Fame, including the Ohio sports, the North Carolina Sports, North Carolina Business, the LPGA teaching division, and the first woman to be inducted to the PGA Golf Instructors Hall of Fame. Three national golf magazines, Golf Digest, Golf and Golf For Women, named her as one of the nation’s best teachers. She was the LPGA Teacher of the Year in 1961, and the PGA’s First Lady of Golf in 2007. She also served on the National Board of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
In addition to Pine Needles Lodge and Country Club, Mrs. Bell and her family became an owner of the Mid Pines Inn and Golf Club in 1994. Both resorts feature classic Donald Ross designed golf courses that date to the mid-1920s. Mrs. Bell was honorary chairperson of three highly successful US Women’s Open Championships that were played at Pine Needles in 1996, 2001 and 2007.
She counted among her friends such illustrious sports stars as Babe Zaharias, Patty Berg, Annika Sorenstam, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Michael Jordan.
Mrs. Bell was preceded in death by her husband Warren “Bullet” Bell in 1984. She is survived by daughters Bonnie McGowan and her husband Pat, a former touring pro; Peggy Ann and her husband Kelly Miller, the president of Pine Needles and Mid Pines; and son Kirk.
She was the proud grandmother of eight: Michael and Scotti McGowan; Blair, and Kellyann Miller, Melody Miller McClelland; and Walker, Charles & Gracie Bell.
A memorial service will be held on Tuesday, November 29th at 2:00 pm at Brownson Memorial Presbyterian Church. Visitation will be held at Boles Funeral Home in Southern Pines on Monday, November 28th from 6-8pm. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to The Fellowship of Christian Athletes or the Peggy Kirk Bell Girls Golf Tour (PKBGT) in Greensboro, NC.