Bonnie McGowan Vital Part of Bell Family Legacy
Bonnie McGowan doesn’t get all the fanfare of her hall of fame mother or her former PGA Tour Rookie of the Year husband, and now she’s on the sidelines avidly rooting for her son, Michael, as he competes in the U.S. Amateur Championship this week.
But despite the lack of personal hyperbole, McGowan has created her own niche in the legend that has been established at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club.
The daughter of world-renowned Peggy Kirk Bell and the wife of former PGA and Champions Tour player Pat, McGowan is a mother of two — Michael and Scotti — and a vital cog in the instruction schools that have helped make Pine Needles famous.
She recently granted the following interview.
Q. You’ve very quietly become one of the most respected instructors at Pine Needles. How long have you been teaching, and what do you consider your expertise?
A. I was put to work teaching in our youth camps in the mid-70s. Pine Needles hosted the National Golf Foundation seminars for years. All the great instructors at that time attended and taught high school and college phys ed teachers and coaches how to instruct. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to sit on the range and listen to their teaching styles.
Q. Weren’t you a member of the first women’s golf team at the University of North Carolina? Who recruited you, and what was that like?
A. I was a late bloomer. I played in high school and some junior tournaments, but never took it too seriously. I went to St. Mary’s College for two years, where they really didn’t have a golf team. I almost went to Wake Forest, but decided to go to Rollins College, where my mom had finished. I was still not too interested in golf because I was playing college basketball.
I became friends with another transfer, Laura Lecker Carson, who was playing on the golf team, and I started getting back into the game after my junior year.
I then transferred to Carolina, where I walked on. Coach Dot Gunnells knew me from junior golf, and I had also traveled with and played against UNC team member Sally Austin in those earlier years.
Because I had transferred twice and had not used my eligibility in golf, I was able to play two years for UNC.
Q. You were obviously a good player. Did you consider playing professionally?
A. I considered it. I certainly had the work ethic, which made me expect perfection. However, I was lacking on the patience part, which I believe is probably the most essential part of the game if you have the physical and mental toughness. I almost knew too much about the swing and emotionally I could never let the bad holes go.
I think that’s why I’ve enjoyed teaching, because that’s where I found patience. I love to see my students improve. I can stand on the range patiently all day with beginners until they start hitting the ball, but I had zero tolerance for my own missed shots.
Q. Your mother is one of the most esteemed and revered women in golf. What was it like growing up with her, and how has she affected your life?
A. Mom was great about exposing us to golf. She taught us all how to play but never pushed us; she wanted us to love golf for ourselves. My sister, Peggy, and brother, Kirk, played competitively, as well as our spouses. Actually, all eight grandchildren play too.
Mom has been a big influence in my life in so many ways. Because she has been such a pioneer in women’s golf, we grew up knowing all the greats in the game. I believe one of her biggest attributes is her humility; she’s almost embarrassed when she receives an award because she doesn’t think she should be rewarded for doing something she loves to do.
Q. How did you meet Pat, and when were you married? Did you follow him on the PGA Tour?
A. Pat and I met at Pine Needles when he came to the qualifying school at Pinehurst for the PGA Tour. I was in school at UNC at the time and was introduced to him in the lobby. He qualified and came back the next year to play in the Hall of Fame Tournament and stayed at Pine Needles again.
I had friends down from Chapel Hill, so we all went out dancing. We stayed in touch as he played the tour and Pine Needles became his East Coast week off. We were married in 1981 and I traveled the Tour for about 12 years.
Q. It has always been a family affair at Pine Needles. Can you envision what it might have been like under different circumstances?
A. I watched my parents work together as a team to develop Pine Needles. In my generation we each have had our roles in the business. We don’t always agree, but we have the legacy of our parents’ fulfilled dream in mind when we make decisions and we have Pine Needles best interest at heart.
I believe having family involved is what makes our resort special. Our family has always felt as we get to know our customers, members and employees that they become part of the family.
Q. Haven’t you dabbled in clothes design at some point? If so, are you still involved with that?
A. I played amateur golf with a friend from South Carolina, Lucille Ray. I went down to help her design something for a trade show she was attending, so I drew up a design for a sweatshirt. She went to the show and everyone wanted the shirts.
During the 1986 PGA Championship we formed our company, Players’ Design (named for two players designing), and began to manufacture long-sleeved overshirts with collars for the upscale clubs, which evolved into creating a whole line of a variety of styles and fabrics for the Masters and U.S. Opens. We are still selling our line online at www.playersdesign.com. We make one of the best cotton sweaters in the market and are known for our colors and long-lasting wearability.
Q. Your son, Michael, is an accomplished golfer who is a senior at UNC; and your daughter, Scotti, is also a good player. Are you hoping for a career in golf for them?
A. I think Michael has aspirations to play the PGA Tour. When he finishes school next year we’ll see how he feels at that point. I want him ultimately to make his own decisions on what he wants to do.
We’re excited that Scotti has recently gotten the golf bug. She has been really working at it and has played exceptionally well in competition for as little as she’s played. Scotti likes to take Mom out to play, and Mom is thrilled that another girl in the family has taken it up.
Q. Your entire life has involved golf. Ever just get tired of it and think of doing something else?
A. Golf is what I grew up with, so it’s just a way of life that has seemed natural. I can’t imagine life without an association with golf. I have to say that my closest friends over the years were made through golf. I always joked that I would never marry a golfer.
Q. What don’t we know about Bonnie McGowan that we probably should?
A. Since the Olympics are on, probably my biggest regret in life is that I didn’t focus on being an Olympian. John Williams, our dear family friend, wanted me to do track and field when there really wasn’t track for girls, which meant I had to train with the guys, and they didn’t have organized Junior Olympics like today.
There was just a Junior Olympic track day once a year, and I was a sprinter and had my share of wins. I did break the Junior Olympic record at age 13 in the long jump, which could have been my ticket to the Olympics, but I will never know.
I get choked up when I watch the American flag raised during the Olympics, thinking what a thrill it would be to be part of the team and represent my country.
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