By: Fred Altvater
By any standard of measurement Peggy Kirk Bell led an extraordinary life. Many current golfers may not be familiar with the name, but her accomplishments rank her with the greats of golf such as; Arnold Palmer, Bobby Jones and Sam Snead.
Born and raised in Findlay, she reached the pinnacle of success in woman’s golf and was a pioneer in promoting golf worldwide.
James Walker Tufts was responsible for bringing Donald Ross to Pinehurst and is recognized as the founder of the golfing mecca. Just down the road in Southern Pines, Peggy Kirk Bell and her husband Warren, built and made Pine Needles into one of the most popular golf resorts in the greater Pinehurst area. In 1953, they added Mid-Pines to their domain. Both properties are still owned and run by the Bell family today.
Margaret Anne Kirk was born in Findlay, in 1921. Although she was an excellent athlete, young women were not encouraged to pursue sporting endeavors in the 1930’s and 40’s. She did not take up golf until she was 17-years-old, but compiled one of the best amateur records of all time.
She won the Ohio State Championship three consecutive years in 1947, 1948, and 1949.
Bell attended Rollins University, played on the women’s golf team and her game continued to improve. In 1949, as an amateur, she beat the lady professionals to win the Titleholders Championship, a major for women. She also won the prestigious North and South Amateur Championship and was a member of the 1950 Curtis Cup team. Other important victories included, wins at the Eastern Amateur and the Augusta Titleholders.
James Dodson, one of the foremost writers on golf in America, called Mrs. Bell, the female Arnold Palmer for her impact both as a competitor and teacher.
Palmer himself commented on Bell,
“Peggy is a tribute to the game of golf. She has tirelessly given of herself to the game and her contributions have helped make it great.”
It is common knowledge that Bell married professional basketball player, Warren “Bullet” Bell, but not many realize, that her husband also grew up in Findlay and they were high school sweethearts. He was a star athlete in high school and was named to the All Ohio Basketball team three times, 1938-1940. He earned a scholarship to Ohio State University, where he was a member of the 1940-41 Buckeye squad before entering the Army to serve during WW II.
After the war, Bell known for his slick ball handling abilities, played three seasons of professional basketball for the Fort Wayne Pistons. He also received a degree in Business Administration from Ohio State and along with his wife turned Pine Needles and Mid-Pines into one of the best golf destinations in the country.
Bell accumulated too many awards during her golfing career to mention them all, but here is a listing of a few.
-Bobby Jones Award (1990), the highest honor given by the USGA for Distinguished Sportsmanship in the game of golf
-LPGA Ellen Griffin Award (1989) signifying excellence in teaching the fundamentals of golf
-Only female golfer to compete in the four inaugural national events for female golfers
– National Intercollegiate Golf Tournament in 1940
– National LPGA Tournament
-U.S. Women’s Open
-LPGA Seniors Teaching Division Tournament
-Runner-up to Babe Zaharias in Women’s Western Open
-Selected for USGA Curtis Cup team in 1950
-Named LPGA Teacher of the Year (1961) & LPGA Golf Professional of the Year (1981).
Peggy was a world-class player in her own right, but devoted her life to teaching the game of golf. She loved helping her guests at Pine Needles and Mid-Pines and could often be seen moving up and down the range making comments and offering suggestions.
She was beloved by all who knew her. Many golfers made annual pilgrimages to Southern Pines, just to see Miss Peggy and get a few tips.
As well as an exceptional player, Peggy Kirk Bell became one of the most recognized teachers in the country, helped to run the family’s resort, and raised three children along the way. She was outspoken, gracious and sought out by her guests.
Peggy Kirk Bell is just one more example of the solid work ethic and rich history of golf right here in Ohio.