For Bonnie McGowan, the large extended family that she and her siblings knew growing up somehow never got smaller.
Home was a brick Tudor overlooking Pine Needles’ 18th hole. The club itself — the cart paths, the sprinklers, the pine straw — was quite literally their playground. Most of the guests, whether they came from near or far, were honorary aunts and uncles.
It’s the childhood you might expect the oldest daughter of women’s golf pioneer Peggy Kirk Bell to have had.
“We knew nothing more than Pine Needles. We lived it,” said McGowan’s younger sister Peggy Miller. “It was home to us; it wasn’t just a business. We were partners in crime here. Obviously Bonnie was the leader of the pack.”
The family was devoted to golf; conversely everyone who came to play and learn the game under Bell’s tutelage was family. It’s that approach of unstinting generosity that McGowan, who died on Thursday at the age of 68, carried throughout her life when it came to her own students and everyone who crossed her path.
McGowan played golf at Pinecrest, Rollins College and the University of North Carolina and traveled the PGA Tour with her husband Pat McGowan, periodically returning to Pine Needles to teach the club’s “golfari” sessions. She was president of the PGA Tour Wives Association in the mid-1980s.
After starting a family, McGowan returned to Pine Needles full-time as an instructor. Miller, whose husband Kelly is president of Pine Needles and Mid-Pines, said that her sister was the one who inherited their parents’ largesse and became the face of Pine Needles for guests.
“People would call Bonnie, and I used to think that it was because she was the oldest but I’ve realized it had nothing to do with age,” she said. “Our parents gave everything away to everybody. That was what her heart wanted to do. She might not have had the business sense that most of us had, but it was what she wanted to do and it was okay.”
McGowan could be a relentless coach. Miller said that she would usually be the last instructor to come off the range with students. Regardless of a lesson’s scheduled end time, McGowan wasn’t done until the objective had sunk in.
She became an assistant coach of the Sandhills Community College women’s golf team in 2016 when her daughter Scotti briefly played there, and stayed on for six years.
“You’d have to say ‘Bonnie, that’s enough, you don’t have to coach her anymore.’ She would just keep on, keep on, but that’s the way she was,” head coach Herb Pike recalled. “She had to get her point across and she was good at it.”
McGowan never accepted a paycheck for coaching the college team. But she also took on a non-transactional role as ‘golf mom,’ making sure that her charges always had plenty of drinks and snacks — even flowers when a golfer needed a vote of confidence before a big match — and surrounding the team with an infectious sense of fun.
“I could talk all day about how much she’s influenced the girls that have gone to Sandhills and played golf for me,” said Pike. “She was just a special person. She would look after the girls in any way that she could.”
McGowan maintained a lifelong involvement with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes after first getting involved as a high school student. She led The O’Neal School’s chapter for 10 years and supported the FCA Golf ministry’s activities in the golf industry.
She was diagnosed a year ago with pancreatic cancer, and received a discouraging set of test results on the first day of the U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles this past summer. The championship was the fourth Women’s Open to be hosted at Pine Needles and a record for any course.
“Most of the media was kind of approaching us like ‘this is hard, the first Open not having your mother here,’ which was different for sure, but little did they know that was in our hearts,” said Miller.
“We know she’s in a better place with our mom and dad. She would say her legacy is her serving the Lord and teaching God’s word. I know I’ll see her again.”
A memorial service will be held Wednesday at 2 p.m. at Brownson Memorial Presbyterian Church in Southern Pines.
Contact Mary Kate Murphy at (910) 693-2479 or email@example.com.