A long-hitter in her day, Bell had a fluid, classical golf swing that produced crisp iron play and helped boost her to an outstanding amateur career. She won the Ohio Women’s Amateur three consecutive years, from 1947-49, and also captured some of the most prestigious amateur titles of the day. These include the 1950 Women’s Eastern Amateur, the 1949 North & South Women’s Amateur and the 1949 Titleholders, where she beat a field that included the era’s best professionals, including Babe Zaharias and Patty Berg. With Zaharias as her partner, she won the 1947 Women’s International Four-Ball Championship.
She was selected for the 1950 USA Curtis Cup Team, which was captained by Glenna Collett Vare. In the match at the Country Club of Buffalo in Williamsville, N.Y., 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, searching out the various LPGA stops by following road maps from the air. A narrow escape and a forced landing prompted her to sell the plane.
Peggy and Bullet made two of the biggest moves of their lives in 1953 – they got married and, with partners, bought the Donald Ross-designed Pine Needles golf course in Southern Pines, then rolled up their sleeves to build a golf resort. Their first project was a chalet-styled clubhouse. The rustic resort grew in size and stature over the years as the Bells added lodges, meeting rooms and a pool.
With a growing family and the demands of running the resort, Peggy retired from the tour and turned to golf instruction. "I gave my first golf lesson in "53 and I charged $2," she said. “That was pretty good then.”
A few years later, Bell and the late Ellen Griffin organized a golf school for women. More than 20,000 women have since visited the week-long “Golfaris” at Pine Needles.
When Bullet died in 1984, Peggy continued to oversee the resort with her children and their spouses at the helm. Pine Needles hosted five USGA championships, including the 1989 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship and the 1991 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur.
At dinner one night with longtime friend Judy Bell, a member of the USGA’s Executive Committee, Peggy said, “Well, we’ve had the old ladies and we’ve had the girls. Now if we could get some pros in here we’d have it covered.”
Judy Bell later approached Peggy about hosting the U.S. Women’s Open and the championship was conducted at Pine Needles in 1996, 2001 and 2007. Hall of Famers Annika Sorenstam and Karrie Webb won the first two Women’s Opens, and multiple major champion Cristie Kerr won in 2007.
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.”