They’re coming back to the Sandhills.
On Tuesday, the USGA announced that the U.S. Women’s Open would return to Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club the first week of June 2022. It will be the record fourth time the U.S. Women’s Open has been at Pine Needles and the first since the passing of the club’s former owner, the Grand Dame of North Carolina women’s golf, Peggy Kirk Bell.
“Mrs. Bell would be thrilled to have this record (number of opens) and her influence in the game certainly played a role in (the U.S. Women’s Open) coming back,” said Julie Garner, a friend of Bell’s and the head women’s golf coach at Bell’s alma mater, Rollins College. While Bell was not technically a founder of the LPGA (she came immediately after the original 13 founders and was deemed a “charter member”) she was the founding member of the women’s golf program at Rollins.
“She was the reason (the USGA) came to Pine Needles,” Garner said. “They had been there before (for the 1989 U.S. Girls’ Junior and the 1991 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur) but Mrs. Bell said to (future USGA president) Judy Bell, ‘How about having an Open here.’ I’m sure it wasn’t that simple but that’s how it started.”
Bell and her husband Warren (a former professional basketball player) bought the sagging Pine Needles resort in 1953, the year of their marriage. They restored the classic, 1928 Donald Ross gem to its original glory and turned the lodge into one of the best golf destinations in the Southeast.
The first Women’s Open held there in 1996 was the second consecutive U.S. Women’s Open victory for one of the game’s greatest champions, Annika Sorenstam. The USGA returned in 2001 where Karrie Webb won her second consecutive Women’s Open. Then in 2007 Cristie Kerr won her first major championship at Pine Needles.
“Pine Needles is, if not my favorite U.S. Women’s Open venue, it’s in the top three,” Webb told the USGA. “Pine Needles [in 1996] was my very first U.S. Open I ever played in and then when we went back in 2001, I was so excited to be there as a defending champion. Obviously, it was a special week where I played fantastic golf at a tremendous golf course. I’ll always have special memories of Pine Needles.”
“To host the most prestigious event in women’s golf for the fourth time speaks to our longstanding relationship with the USGA, and we’re honored they accepted our invitation to host the Women’s Open,” said Kelly Miller, president and CEO of Pine Needles. “I can only imagine how happy Mrs. Bell would have been to host another Women’s Open.”
Bell died in November 2016 at age 95. A girls’ junior golf tour in the Southeast bears her name and the college team she helped found at Rollins is now the most successful women’s golf program in history with 13 national championships. The school hosts an annual college tournament at Pine Needles in Bell’s honor.
“She was quite a lady,” Garner said. “This (Open) is just another part of a remarkable legacy.”