USGA Women's Open

From left, Kelly Miller, Pine Needles & Mid Pines President; LPGA Professional and Pine Needles pro Donna Andrews; Shannon Rouillard, Director of the U.S. Women's Open and U.S. Senior Women's Open for the USGA; and Reg Jones, the senior director of U.S. Open Golf Championships for the USGA, stand beside the two trophies that will be awarded in 2019 for the U.S. Senior Women's Open and the U.S. Women's Open in 2022. USGA officials awarded Pine Needles the championship major on Tuesday.

The venerable and historic Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club in Southern Pines will host its fourth U.S. Women’s Open in 2022, the U.S. Golf Association announced Tuesday.

This newest addition to the club’s storied legacy will come three years after the course hosts the U.S. Senior Women’s Open in 2019. USGA officials were at the club off Midland Road Tuesday to speak about that event and discuss preparations.

“We’ve had so many magical moments here,” said Reg Jones, senior director of U.S. Open championships for the USGA. Jones was a staff member working on the first U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles in 1996.

On Tuesday, standing on a patio overlooking the club’s 18th green, Jones recalled the legacy of longtime Pine Needles owner and women’s golf icon Peggy Kirk Bell, especially during that 1996 tournament on the final day, on the 18th green prior to awarding Annika Sorenstam the trophy.

“Watching Peggy Kirk Bell and Judy Bell, who was our president at the time, shock everybody by announcing that the Women’s Open would return to Pine Needles in 2001, it certainly floored me,” Jones said. “That was a special moment in time for us.”

Jones said returning the Women’s Open to Pine Needles honors the legacy that Bell built for women and golf.

“She was such a special lady, such an icon, such a mentor for so many of us. There were so many accolades for Mrs. Bell.”

Bell, who died in November 2016 at the age of 95, bought Pine Needles and Mid Pines across the street in 1953 with her husband Warren “Bullet” Bell and grew them to an enormous golf presence in Southern Pines.

Her crowning achievement was getting the USGA to bring its prestigious U.S. Women’s Open championship to Pine Needles in 1996, 2001 and then 2007.

Kelly Miller, Bell’s son-in-law and the president and CEO of Pine Needles and Mid Pines, said the club was thrilled to be hosting the 2019 Senior Women’s Open and is even more so now that it will also have the Women’s Open in 2022.

“We’ll obviously have a lot of work ahead of us,” Miller said, “but one of the things that’s great about it is the tremendous support we get not only from the community here...but the state of North Carolina really wraps its arms around championship golf in the Carolinas.

“We’re excited to host (the Women’s Open) again. I remember going down in ‘96, being on the first tee and wanting to see the first one tee off and there was Peg right down there and she just said, ‘Bullet would have been so proud.’

“As we move forward to 2019 and 2022,” Miller said, “we’ll try to keep Mrs. Bell proud of what we’re doing.”

The last U.S. Women’s Open hosted here occurred in 2014, when the USGA, for the first time ever, scheduled its U.S. Open and Women’s Open in consecutive weeks and played them both at Pinehurst No. 2 with an identical set-up for the players.

The back-to-back experience, not since repeated, generated millions of dollars for the region and state and garnered immeasurable benefit to tourism and promotion of the region’s golf economy.

The USGA has a special relationship with the Sandhills and its place in the history of American golf. By 2022, the USGA will have held 16 of its national championships over the last 26 years, including nine Open championships. That doesn’t include the elite U.S. Open, which Pinehurst No. 2 will host in 2024 for a fourth time since its first one in 1999.

Next year alone, the USGA will host four of its championships in North and South Carolina, including the Senior Amateur in Cary, the Women’s Open in Charleston, the U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Pine Needles and the U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst.

“It’s the cooperation we receive here, not only in the Sandhills but really throughout the state of North Carolina,” Jones said. “It is truly unmatched and a big part of our site selection process. We cannot conduct these championships without that tremendous support.”

Pine Needles moves into elite company in its relationship with the USGA. It will be the only club to have hosted the U.S. Women’s Open more than three times. In all, this represents the club’s seventh USGA championship.

“It’s a validation to the great test of golf out there as well a tribute to our past champions,” Jones said.

The Pine Needles course was designed in 1928 by the iconic Donald Ross and renovated in 2004 by John Fought. Its greens were converted from bent to ultra-dwarf bermuda in 2016, and noted course architect and builder Kyle Franz made some refinements to the course, including an emphasis on some of the finer detailing Ross built into his courses.

The USGA will host its inaugural Senior Women’s Open in Chicago this year. When it comes to Pine Needles next year, the course will be configured to a par of 71 and play a little over 6,000 yards.

“Pine Needles is, if not my favorite U.S. Women’s Open venue, it’s in the top three,” said professional golfer Karrie Webb, who won the 2001 Open at Pine Needles.

John Nagy is editor of The Pilot. Contact him at thepiltoeditor@gmail.com or (910) 693-2507.

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