Kelly Miller is what you call a golf guy. He grew up around the game and has long played it well. Well enough to have competed in four U.S. Amateurs and an equal number of Mid-Ams. And to have won club championships at Seminole and Pine Valley.
Miller has also been working in the golf business for decades. He took a job as a front desk clerk at the Pine Needles Resort in North Carolina after graduating from the University of Alabama in 1981, eventually rising to president of that property. In addition, he has served as general chairman of the U.S. Women’s Open the three times it was played at Pine Needles.
Then, there are his family ties. He met his future wife, Peggy Ann Bell, when they both played golf for the Crimson Tide, and his mother-in-law is the legendary Hall of Fame teacher and charter LPGA member Peggy Kirk Bell.
The 52-year-old Miller is probably best known in golfing circles for his playing abilities. Born in Michigan City, Ind., he picked up the sport as a boy and garnered much of his early knowledge of the golf swing from Ben Hogan’s classic
“Five Fundamentals.” Miller got good enough to compete on his high school and college teams, but work at Pine Needles took precedence over golf once he landed
That, however, didn’t stop him from eventually making his mark on the amateur circuit. Miller qualified for his first Mid-Am in 1991, the same year he was runner-up in the North Carolina State Amateur. And he was on his way, competing in the U.S. Am in ’93 and ’94 as well as in 1996, when he made it to the Final 16.
Miller’s good amateur play continued through the first decade of the new millennium, a stretch that included teeing it up in seven British Mid-Ams and winning the Coleman Invitational at Seminole and the World Club Team
Championship for Pine Valley and with David Abell as his teammate. That was also the period when he captured three club championships at Pine Valley and Seminole.
“I have always enjoyed competing,” he says. “I don’t play that much around Pine Needles, but I do enter a fair amount of outside events. Like the Coleman and
the Crump, and also the Anderson at Winged Foot and the Singles at the National Golf Links. I love those courses and also love being with my golf friends. We’ve been
butting heads for years, and it is still fun to do that on at those great venues.”
Miller says work at one of the more celebrated golf destinations in the U.S. has been fun, too.
“My wife and I got married in 1982, right after we graduated, and that was the same year we came to Pine Needles, which Mrs. Bell owned with her husband, Warren,” he says. “I’d come in to work at 6:30 a.m. and stay through dinner, checking in guests and taking them to their rooms. And my wife ran the night shift, from 3 p.m. until midnight. It was busy, but it as a great way to learn the business.”
Peggy Kirk Bell and her late husband, Warren “Bullet” Bell had bought Pine Needles in 1953. It included a lodge as well as a golf course designed by their friend, Donald Ross, and had opened in 1927. They ran it together until Warren died a couple of years after Miller and Peggy Ann started working there.
In 1994, Mrs. Bell bought Mid Pines, which was right across the street from Pine Needles and also boasted a Ross golf course. And in time, Miller came to run it all for the family.
“I enjoy my job and really like being here,” says Miller. “The business environment has been pretty tough since 2008, and we keep working on finding the right scaling and size to make it viable in both the near and long term. We are doing a little developing of our own, on land we have bought around here over the years, and we recently started a membership program at both golf courses so we are now
a little bit of a hybrid, both private and public. Those are just the sorts of things you have to do.”
Miller admits with a chuckle that all is not exactly rosy in his golfing life, either. “I am more or less waiting to become a senior,” he says. “I am really looking forward to moving up a set of tees.”
But neither the prospects of playing it back a couple more years, nor dealing with an inherently difficult travel market, dims Miller’s love for the game and the pleasure he finds being involved with it in some many ways.
“One of my mother-in-law’s best friends was Babe Zaharias,” Miller said, “and she asked Babe one time what her favorite sport was. ‘Oh, that’s easy. It’s golf, because it puts you with such good people.’ And I believe that line is
true because golf weeds out the bad ones. Because after a while, no one wants to play with them any more.”