Peggy Kirk Bell has always been a golf icon to me, and for reasons quite different than for most of the women who learn to love and respect her when attending one of her famed Golfari schools.
My relationship to her goes way back, both in place and time. You see, Bell is from my hometown and she taught my mother to play golf. And finally, in 2002, she taught me.
So I was especially pleased to learn that she was inducted into the World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame on Jan. 31. She is the 11th member, and first woman, to be voted into the hall, which was established by GOLF magazine six years ago. The hall also includes the likes of Harvey Penick, Tommy Armour, Jim Flick, John Jacobs, Davis Love Sr. and Paul Runyan.
Bell was chosen from a list of 40 nominees by GOLF magazine's Top 100 Teachers and a panel of golf historians and journalists. The candidates, selected by the Top 100 Teachers, were evaluated on the following criteria:
· Unfailing dedication to students;
· Knowledge shared with the teaching community;
· Demonstrated professionalism;
· At least 25 years of teaching professionally.
To anyone who knows her, there is little doubt that she qualifies for the honor. At age 82, Bell continues to teach and give demonstrations and has no intention of retiring.
As for my story, I had heard about Peggy Kirk Bell and her resort, Pine Needles, since my childhood. She and my mother went to school together in Findlay, Ohio, and every once in awhile my mother would mention this high school friend of hers who had gone on to become a golf pro, play on the professional tour and eventually own her own golf resort. My parents knew her late husband, too -- Warren "Bullet" Bell -- who was also from Findlay.
Over the years, my mother kept in touch with "Peggy," as she was always referred to in our house. When mom took up golf in her early 40s (surprising the heck out of all of us as my mother had never did anything remotely athletic), she and my father began traveling from Findlay to Pine Needles, in Southern Pines, N.C. They would stay three or four days, playing golf, visiting and taking lessons from Peggy. They even bought a timeshare at nearby Lake Lure where they would go practice their newly honed golf skills after leaving Pine Needles.
This went on throughout my teenage years and into my early adulthood. Each summer my parents would head off to North Carolina to visit Peggy and Pine Needles. But, of the five children, only my youngest brother ever got to go there, and that was after were we all long gone from the house.
Like my mother, I came to golf later in life. I did not get serious about it until just a few years ago, and I'd already turned 50. And one of my earliest goals after starting to play regularly is that I would someday meet and take a lesson from Peggy Kirk Bell.
That dream became a reality in May of 2002 when I took stock of my game, decided I needed to make a serious commitment to improving and signed up for a Golfari at Pine Needles. I also was well aware that Peggy was turning 80 that year, and I wanted to take a lesson from her while she was still teaching.
Peggy herself learned to play golf as a teenager and soon was a top amateur. She won a number of titles then turned pro and became one of the founders of the LPGA. She competed for about 10 years and then settled down with Bullet at Pine Needles to raise their three children.
The Bells bought Pine Needles in 1953 and Peggy gave her first lesson that year. She started her womens-only Golfari golf schools in 1960, establishing herself as a forerunner in golf instruction for women. Little wonder that more than 100 women will sign up this year for each of the seven sessions offered. (The resort also offers Golfaris for families and beginners.)
Arriving at Pine Needles, the place I had heard about so long, was memorable. I flew from Michigan to Richmond, Va., and caught a limo to Southern Pines. The resort is a collection of lovely, lodge-style buildings set among stately pines and features a golf course designed by Donald Ross. Of course, just down the road is Pinehurst, certainly a prestigious neighbor.
Meeting the Bell family at the opening reception -- Peggy has three children and eight grandchildren -- was heart-warming. She is fortunate that they all live in the area and are in involved in the operation of Pine Needles and nearby Mid-Pines Inn & Golf Club, which the family also owns.
Peggy was actually not present during the first two days of my Golfari, because she was off to a hall of fame ceremony where her good friend Mickey Wright was being inducted. But her two daughters, Bonnie and Peggy, were both teaching.
However, when she appeared at the early clinic on Day 3, all present were impressed with her gravely voice, offbeat jokes, lovely smile -- and perfect swing. Each morning thereafter she would be there with her son-in-law and director of golf, Pat McGowan, giving a demonstration.
I finally caught up with her on the practice tee early one evening, where she was still giving pointers to diligent pupils. I introduced myself and told her who my parents were.
She remembered them, of course, and began reminiscing: "You know, Seely (my dad) never really did like the game much. (She was so right on that.) I so clearly remember one late afternoon when they were here I saw him swimming in the pool. I told him that he should be practicing, not swimming.
"And he just grinned at me and swam on."
That story brought a lump to my throat as I told her my dad has passed away not long ago. She asked after my mother and I told her that mom could no longer play golf because of arthritis. She sympathized and later signed a copy of her latest book to my mother.
Then Peggy said: "Let's not waste time. Let me see you swing." Before you know it, she was marking up my brand new glove with a black pen (showing the proper grip) and working on my backswing. I appreciated every moment of that all-too-brief lesson.
So it is wonderful to hear that Peggy is being honored in such an appropriate way. That she is still teaching. That she is still giving demos. And that she is keenly anticipating the return of the U.S. Women's Open to Pine Needles in 2007 where she is sure to again serve has honorary chairman.
After all, she was a charter member of the LPGA and you can be sure that she will be there, front and center.
For more information about Pine Needles and Mid-Pines resorts and the Golfari women-only golf schools, go to www.pineneedles-midpines.com
Simply select where you want to play, find a tee time deal, and golf now!