Sports: Peg Kirk Bell best of the best
By DAVE HANNEMAN
In her unique, pioneering way, Peg Kirk Bell knocked the skirts right out of women’s sports.
And in the process she epitomized, in Findlay at first, then on a much grander scale, the trend that saw the emergence of women’s athletics overall.
“Women’s golf (results) used to be on the society page,” Bell said during a return to Findlay some years back. “I guess it was considered more of a social gathering than a sport.
“But when I won the district tournament, Link Groves (former Courier sports editor) put me on the sports page. And I loved being on the sports page with all the baseball and football players. I guess I was just a tomboy.”
Now Bell is a renowned sports figure.
As a young girl growing up in Findlay in the 1930s, Bell faced a gender dilemma. She was an outstanding athlete, but as a female she had few opportunities to excel.
Bell and the Quinlan boys and some of the neighborhood kids formed their own athletic teams. They called themselves the Hurd Avenue Red Caps and challenged all comers in baseball, football, whatever.
“We played ball on Wickham’s lot,” Bell said.
“But Wickham’s lot was down by Cooper, where my dad worked. And I don’t think he wanted people looking out the window and seeing his daughter out there playing ball with the boys.
“So my dad bought me a set of golf clubs. It did get me off the baseball field, so he was thrilled by that.”
But the new sport did not come easily to Bell, a natural athlete.
“Golf drove me crazy because it was one thing I just could not do,” Bell said during one of her visits to Findlay to take part in the annual Julie Cole Charity Golf Tournament.
“I grew up playing team sports. Golf was the only sport I could just go out and do by myself.
“But it was such a challenge. It was frustrating because for three years I played all these other sports and was one of the best athletes in the school.
“Fortunately, Leonard Schmutte (former Findlay Country Club pro) took an interest in me, I think because I was strong for a girl. And with his help, I got better.”
After high school, Bell enrolled at Rollins College in Florida. The school didn’t have a women’s golf team, but that didn’t keep Bell from working on her game.
“I’d go to class in the morning, then head for the club and tee off with the guys in the afternoon,” she said. “I played because I loved the game, and I always played with the guys. I liked to be around men because they were competitive.
“Women weren’t supposed be very competitive back then. Women weren’t supposed to do sports and golf was more of a social thing; you’d play bridge, golf, then do lunch.”
Golf proved to be the perfect vehicle for Bell to blend her athletic ability and her competitive nature. And with outstanding results.
A three-time Ohio Amateur champion, Bell also won titles in the North-South Amateur, International Four-Ball, Everglades Two-Ball, Palm Beach Amateur, Titleholders and Eastern Amateur. Bell was a member of the 1950 Curtis Cup team and a year later took part in the Weathervane Team competition, the first LPGA event.
“My goal in golf was always to win the National Amateur and make the United States Curtis Cup team,” said Bell, who turned pro in 1950.
Joining Bell in efforts to promote women’s golf was Babe Didrikson Zaharias, a three-time U.S. Women’s Open champion.
“When she turned pro, she wanted to compete in tournaments. But there weren’t any around,” Bell said. “So Babe got a manager and she made some contacts. Then she started recruiting some of the top amateur golfers and that’s how the tour started.”
Bell did more than hit the links, however.
In 1953 she and her husband Warren “Bullet” Bell bought the Pine Needles Golf Course in Southern Pines, N.C., and over the years developed it into one of the most respected teaching facilities in the country.
The tomboy had definitely grown up.
“Golf is a great game. It’s taken me around the world,” Bell said.
“… At times I think I’m too old for this. But golf doesn’t give you a chance to retire. It’s amazing what sports has done for me.”
And, conversely, what Bell has done for sports.