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John Reitman

By John Reitman

Peggy Kirk Bell's Pine Needles is perfect for '22 Open


Peggy Kirk Bell was a charter member of the LPGA Tour and dedicated her career to advancing women's golf. She was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2019. Photo by USGA

The element of surprise is gone from this year's U.S. Women's Open volunteer experience.

When a team of 30 volunteers arrive in June for this year's Open at Pine Needles Resort in North Carolina, it will be difficult to replicate the wow factor that took the golf world by storm a year ago at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. Some things are more important than wow, so what will take place at the resort facility in Southern Pines will be no less significant.

Again, it will provide an opportunity for some of the best the industry has to offer to network and learn from each other while promoting the job of greenkeeping to others who might never have considered it. And they will do it at a place with a long history of contributing to women's golf.

This year will be the fourth Women's Open for Pine Needles, the resort facility in the North Carolina sandhills region that holds a significant place in the history of women's golf. Pine Needles was the longtime home of the late Peggy Kirk Bell, an LPGA legend and member of seven golf-related halls of fame, who, with her husband, Warren, bought the property in 1954. She lived there until her death in 2016 at age 95, and her family still owns the property today. This year's event will be a fitting tribute to someone who has dedicated her life to growing the game and advancing women's golf.

David Fruchte has been golf course superintendent at Pine Needles since 1990 and has overseen preparations for all three Women's Open events held there (1996, 2001, 2007). 

"Mrs. Bell was a direct influence to getting the Women's Open to Pine Needles," Fruchte said. "It was a pretty quick deal. When she wants the Open, she gets it."

Bell was an accomplished player and instructor, and she also was an owner with a keen eye for agronomics and the contributions of golf course superintendents.

An accomplished golf instructor, Bell brought the game to countless women, children and men through her Golfari program at Pine Needles.

"Mrs. Bell was great to work for," Fruchte said. "She was my biggest cheerleader."

Like last year at Olympic, this year's volunteer group will include 30 women who are golf course superintendents, assistants and mechanics. Others come from the world of academia and industry vendors. The group will include 15 who worked last year's Open and 15 newcomers.

Among those new to the experience this year is Renee Geyer, superintendent at Canterwood Golf and Country Club in Gig Harbor, Washington. Before she accepted the job at Canterwood last autumn, Geyer was golf course superintendent at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. The site of several professional events, Firestone was home to the PGA Tour's WGC Bridgestone Invitational until 2018, and since then has been home to the Senior Players Championship.

"I have never had the chance to participate in a USGA event. I have had many years of experience with hosting PGA Tour events, but never gotten the opportunity to be involved with a USGA tournament," Geyer said. "I hope it will bring me to see process and procedure through yet another lens of high-quality turf maintenance."

Jessican Lenihan, formerly an assistant superintendent in Idaho and now a sod farm manager in Colorado, was on hand last year at the Olympic Club and will be at Pine Needles in June. The message she and many other women want to send is loud and clear.

"Hey, we can do this, too!" Lenihan said.

There also is a message she and others want to send to young women watching in person and on TV.

Mrs. Bell was a direct influence to getting the Women's Open to Pine Needles. It was a pretty quick deal. When she wants the Open, she gets it.

"The biggest thing with getting more women into this industry is having them be aware that this is even a career option and being on the main stage during a major is one of the best ways to get that done," she said. "When I was in high school, I didn't have a clue this was even something I could do until I got a job on a golf course by chance working with the flowers. Come to find out I liked to cut the grass more."

The opportunity for so many women in a male-dominated industry to gather for networking, education and just prove to doubters what they are capable of doing was a breath-of-fresh-air story that stole headlines in the trades and traditional media throughout much of 2021.

This year's tournament experience, although no longer new, will be just as significant.

A native of Findlay, Ohio, Peggy Kirk Bell was an accomplished amateur player. She won three Ohio Women's Amateur titles and went on to play collegiate golf at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. In 1949, she claimed her only major win at the Titleholders Championship at Augusta Country Club, which butts up to its more famous neighbor in Georgia. She was a member of the 1950 U.S. Curtis Cup team, a charter member of the LPGA and a 2019 inductee into the World Golf Hall of Fame. 

When the Bells bought Pine Needles, they saved it from financial distress and renovated the property. An accomplished golf instructor, Bell brought the game to countless women, children and men through her Golfari (golf safari) program at Pine Needles.

"The history at Pine Needle is beyond that of a fairy tale," said Jennifer Torres, superintendent at Westlake Golf and Country Club in Yardley, Pennsylvania and an Open volunteer for this year. 

"Peggy Kirk Bell was a powerful woman that brought success to Pine Needle. Her passion for Womens' golf brought numerous championship events to the resort."

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