Golf Is Life for Bell Family at Pine Needles, Mid-Pines
Golf at Pine Needles is a family affair, especially with the host family. If Peggy Kirk Bell's clan ever had a golf tournament, it would be a highly competitive and spirited affair with all 14 members anxious to participate.
For the record, the illustrious Bell, now 87, has been a top name in golf for more than 60 years, earning numerous national honors as a player, teacher, promoter and tournament host. The resort's grand dame has three children, two sons-in-law and eight grandchildren.
To a degree, the entire family is involved with golf either as a player, fan, teacher, resort employee or interested spectator. Bell and the family own two of North Carolina's finest golf courses -- Pine Needles and Mid Pines -- both designed by legendary architect Donald Ross and highly ranked in various golf polls.
All three of the Bell children -- daughters Bonnie and Peggy Ann and son Kirk -- were exposed to golf at an early age. The decision as to whether or not to learn the game was theirs, and strong parental influence was never exerted.
"Obviously, both mother and dad wanted us to play golf," explained Bonnie Bell McGowan, "but they didn't force us into the game. They let us decide for ourselves and eventually we all got involved. But we also played other sports such as basketball and soccer. We appreciated their attitude, their encouragement and their support."
Bell's husband, the late Warren "Bullet" Bell, a former college and professional basketball player, was an intense low-handicap player, a competitor who could hold his own when playing with his talented wife or resort guests. He enjoyed playing with his children but spared them of making the game a vital part of their lives.
Bonnie, the oldest, learned the game quickly and played as a collegian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her lowest handicap was four and she played in numerous amateur events. Following in her mother's footsteps, she is a noted instructor at Pine Needles' nationally-acclaimed golf schools, known as "Golfaris."
"I seldom play these days," she said, "because I don't have time. I'm involved in the schools year-round, and they require a lot of attention. If I did play, I would shoot in the 80 range."
Daughter Peggy Ann is also an instructor and, along with her husband Kelly Miller, has helped her children Blair, Melody and KellyAnn learn to play. She also played at the University of Alabama. "I would probably shoot in the 80-82 range if I played in a family event," she said.
Son Kirk, also a Crimson Tide graduate, carries a six-handicap and averages in the mid-70s when he plays. He is working with his three children, all younger than the age of 10, in getting them interested "if that's what they want to do."
The serious golfers in the family are Bell's sons-in-law.
Kelly Miller, president of Pine Needles/Mid Pines resorts, is a highly regarded amateur who has won numerous amateur events. A scratch player, he has been club champion at Pine Valley, Seminole and the Country Club of North Carolina.
Pat McGowan played on the PGA tour for 13 years and was a Champions tour performer for three years. He is now director of instruction at Pine Needles.
But their two sons are hot on their fathers' heels and are becoming top players. McGowan's son, Michael, a two-time state high school champion, is attending UNC on a golf scholarship, while Blair Miller, Kelly's son, a recent Ole Miss graduate, is establishing an enviable reputation for excellence.
Michael, 18, carries a plus-one handicap, while Blair, 23, has a one handicap.
"Both are very good young players and have had 65s from the back tees," McGowan commented. "When Michael and I go head-to-head these days, I seldom win."
McGowan's 12-year-old daughter, Scotti, can break 100 but isn't challenging her brother for family supremacy. Miller's daughters, Melody, 20, and KellyAnn, 16, play on occasions but haven't been bitten by the golf bug as yet.
"But Melody might have the best swing in the family," McGowan said proudly.
And how would Bell, the matriarch, fare in a family golf outing?
"First of all," she replied, "I would let them know how proud I am to have such a talented family. Golf has been so much of my life, and it pleases me to see them interested in continuing a family tradition. Regardless of what they shoot, they are a credit to me, and I love them dearly.
"But I wouldn't win a family tournament these days. Unfortunately, golf doesn't improve with age. But I could hack it around with a bunch of bogeys and a few pars. It would be a lot of fun to compete."
And so it would. But put your money on the young guys because they just might show the older guys what the future holds. After all, great golf is a family tradition.
Bill Hensley is a hall of fame golf publicist and freelance writer who lives in Charlotte.
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