Bittersweet: Bell Enjoys Awards, Hates Goodbyes
There's always something going on with Peggy Kirk Bell. But what was happening Tuesday afternoon wasn't something she particularly relished.
The Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club staff and friends were gathered to say goodbye to Chip King, a man who's been closely associated with the Bell Family for more than two decades.
King ran Mid Pines Inn and Golf Club across Midland Road for years, and when the Bell Family became co-owners of the resort, they brought him across the street to manage both clubs.
King has left the Ross Resorts to be Director of Golf at Grandfather Golf Club in Linville. It was not a move that left Bell thrilled.
"We bought Mid Pines to get Chip," she quipped, "and now we've lost him. He was the backbone here for both places."
There have been many happier moments for the woman who wants everyone to call her Peggy. Lord knows, she's accepted enough honors and awards over the past 20 years to fill a wing on a hall of fame. But she doesn't spend a lot of time polishing her trophies or admiring what she's accomplished in the past.
For her, even at the age of 85, tomorrow is going to be the best day of her life. It isn't about what she's accomplished; it's about what she's doing. And right now what she's doing is getting ready to host a third U.S. Women's Open in 11 years at Pine Needles.
Actually, Tuesday's little get-together could have been about Peggy Kirk Bell. After all, she had just been named the winner of the 2007 First Lady of Golf Award by the PGA of America.
But Bell doesn't like things being about her. It's not that she isn't appreciative of the awards that keep piling up around her, it's just that she doesn't quite understand why they keep honoring her for just doing what she loves to do.
Being added to a membership roll that includes Barbara Nicklaus, Nancy Lopez, Kathy Whitworth and Judy Rankin is pretty heady stuff. But you know what? This first lady would rather talk about the upcoming U.S. Open.
"I guess this award is the biggest thing the PGA of America gives women," she said, "and I do appreciate it. I told them, 'I'm 85 years old, but at least I'm getting it before I croak.'"
Meanwhile, she turns quickly back to her passion, the Women's Open coming up June 28-July 1.
"It's going to be great!" she said. "I'm really excited about seeing all those young girls playing here. It's going to be fun watching Michelle Wie, Morgan Pressel -- who played here last time when she was just 13 -- Paula Creamer, Natalie Gulbis and all those others. "But we can't forget Annika (Sorenstam) and Karrie (Webb). They won the other championships here and they're both playing well."
Pine Needles has undergone a total restoration since the 2001 Open, and many feel that added length and repositioning of bunkers to maintain the Donald Ross integrity of the course will make it a sterner test for the women.
But how much tougher does it have to play? Only Sorenstam, Kris Tschetter and Webb managed to break par in the first two.
Bell expects the scoring to remain about the same.
"Kelly (MIller, resort president and the driving force behind the restoration) thinks the scores will be a little higher," she said. "But the girls hit it so much farther now that I don't think there will be that much difference."
Jokingly asked if she might try to qualify for the Open, the first lady laughed.
"Yeah," she said, "I can't hit it far enough these days to score."
So instead of winning trophies on the course, Bell just keeps raking in the hardware off the course.
"All of the awards are important to me," she said. "I guess the Bob Jones Award was the first really big one that I got, and it means a lot. That was a shocker.
"I can't figure it out -- why they keep giving them to me, but that's OK. I'll take it."
Brain Whitcomb, President of the PGA of America knows why.
"Peggy Kirk Bell embodies the word 'giver' when it comes to devoting one's life to the betterment of others in golf," he said. "Peggy elevated herself and developed the golf school concept into an industry that has extended the careers of teaching professionals and introduced golf to thousands."
Bell will receive the First Lady award May 23 during the Senior PGA Championship at Kiawah Island.
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