By JOHN REITMAN
fof the Review Times
A tip of the cap is offered this week to Peggy Kirk Bell and all the others who pioneered professional women’s golf generations ago.
More than 100 of the game’s greats have those early pioneers to thank this week when they compete in the inaugural U.S. Women’s Senior Open at historic Chicago Golf Club.
The field of 120 professionals and amateurs includes 61 exempt players and 16 past U.S. Women’s Open champions: Amy Alcott (1980), Pat Bradley (1981), Jerilyn Britz (1979), Laura Davies (1987), Jane Geddes (1986), JoAnne Gunderson Carner (1971, 1976), Juli Inkster (1999, 2002), Betsy King (1989, 1990), Murle Lindstrom Breer (1962), Lauri Merten (1993), Liselotte Neumann (1988), Alison Nicholas (1997), Sandra Palmer (1975), Patty Sheehan (1992, 1994), Hollis Stacy (1977, 1978, 1984) and Jan Stephenson (1983).
The tournament was first announced in February 2015, and an event that recognizes the history of women’s golf has been a long time coming for many, including Bradley, who can claim six major championships among her 36 professional wins.
“I’ve had the Senior Women’s Open on my calendar for 17 years, so to say I was excited to apply to play in this championship is an understatement,” Bradley said in a USGA news release. “It’ll bring back some great memories to go back to the Chicago area and compete for an Open title.”
Chicago Golf Club is a fitting venue for the inaugural event. The club, located west of the city in Wheaton, is one of the five clubs that grouped together in 1894 to found the USGA. Established in 1892, CGC is reported to be the country’s oldest golf club in continuous operation on the same site.
Originally designed by Charles Blair Macdonald as a nine-hole facility, Chicago was expanded to 18 holes in 1893 and was renovated by Seth Raynor in 1923. The course has been the site of 11 USGA championships, including three U.S. Open championships (1897, 1900, 1911) and four U.S. Amateur events (1897, 1905, 1909, 1912). It has also hosted the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur (1903), U.S. Senior Amateur (1979) and twice (1928, 2005) was the site of the Walker Cup Matches.
A Findlay native, Bell died in November 2016 at age 95 at her home in North Carolina. She played collegiate golf at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, and was one of the top amateur players of her generation. Bell won the Ohio Women’s Amateur three times in the 1940s before participating on the 1950 U.S. Curtis Cup team. Her alma mater near Orlando still hosts an annual tournament that bears her name. Her other accomplishments on the golf course include the 1949 North and South Women’s Amateur in 1949, participating on the 1950 U.S. Curtis Cup team and winning the Titleholders Championship, a women’s professional major championship from 1925-1966.
Bell’s professional career started in 1950 when she became a charter member of the LPGA. She was a golf course owner by the early 1950s and revolutionized golf instruction for women, creating a system of instruction not just for women, but taught exclusively by women.
Her contributions to women’s golf will be further recognized next year when the second annual U.S. Women’s Senior Open is played at the facility she owned in North Carolina, Pine Needles Lodge in Southern Pines.
“On behalf of the Bell family and our entire community, Pine Needles is thrilled the USGA has accepted our invitation to host the 2019 U.S. Senior Women’s Open Championship,” said Kelly Miller, president of Pine Needles and Kirk Bell’s son-in-law, in a news release.
“Having hosted three previous U.S. Women’s Opens, we look forward to seeing some familiar faces and welcoming all competitors to this new USGA championship. I’m confident our Donald Ross-designed course will identify another great champion.”
John Reitman is director of news and education for TurfNet, an Orlando, Florida-based news service for the golf industry. He can be reached at email@example.com.