Some of you may never have heard of Peggy Kirk Bell; others know her as the First Lady of Golf. She’s an accomplished amateur and professional player, an esteemed instructor a charter member of the LPGA. A part of the American golf fabric, she’s helped pave the way for players like me. She’s also about to turn 95 years old.
I first met Mrs. Bell during my second year at Rollins College during a tournament held at Mid Pines Golf Course in Southern Pines, N.C. Full of stories about her good friends, including the likes of Babe Didrickson Zaharias and Jack Nicklaus, she mesmerized us with anecdotes about how she liked to practice her short game growing up, and the importance of having a good attitude.
Bell was born in Findlay, Ohio, and started playing golf at 17—an age we would now consider relatively late for someone who goes on to turn professional. In the early 1940s, Bell won multiple Ohio State Amateurs, then attended Rollins College and rounded off her amateur career as a member of the victorious 1950 United States Curtis Cup team.
Mrs. Bell turned pro that summer and became one of the first members of the Ladies Professional Golf Association. She only captured one tour victory during her time as a professional, but her impact on the women’s game transcended trophies. Partnering with Didrickson Zaharias, Bell would drive all over the country to work with golf clubs and sponsors in hopes of creating opportunities for the women on the tour to showcase their talents.
The author and Mrs. Bell.
Bell eventually took up instruction so that she could care for her three children while remaining involved in the game she loved. Basing herself out of Pine Needles, a golf course that the she would eventually go on to own and manage, Bell taught group and private lessons and hosted three U.S. Women’s Opens, as well as a Senior Women Amateur Championship across the street at Mid Pines. She also started the Peggy Kirk Bell Girls Golf Tour in N.C., organizing events in which young women can enjoy “affordable top-level tournament competition and development.”
A true pioneer for the game of golf, Bell has been awarded the USGA’s highest honor, the Bob Jones Award, as well as the LPGA’s Patty Berg Award, both in recognition of sportsmanship and immense contributions to the game of golf. The one recognition she doesn’t yet have—and in my mind more than deserves—is a spot in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
In order to be inducted into the WGHoF, a person must fit the criteria for at least one of these three categories: Competitor, Veteran or Lifetime Achievement. Although the criteria for being nominated as a veteran is somewhat vague, Mrs. Bell fits it by having completed her playing career before 1980. The lifetime achievement category seems like an even better fit: that award is bestowed upon an individual who “Must have contributed to the game significantly in areas outside of the competitive arena (i.e. administrator, course architect, innovator, instructor, media, etc.).”
She’s 95 years old, and a living legend. She’s played an integral part in shaping the women’s game. I know I’m not alone in feeling like we should give her this honor before it’s too late.