Bonnie Bell McGowan, 1954-2023
Southern Pines, NC – Bonnie Bell McGowan, the eldest child of LPGA founding member Peggy Kirk Bell and an institution herself in the golf instruction and resort management business at her family-owned Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club, passed away peacefully January 12, 2023 with her family by her side. She was 68 years old.
Bonnie and her sister Peggy Ann and brother Kirk grew up in the golf business as their parents, Peggy and Warren “Bullet” Bell, began running the Pine Needles golf and lodge operation in 1953 with Julius Boros and the Cosgrove family. Five years later, they bought out their partners and began building the resort infrastructure that remains in place today.
Bonnie was born on Oct. 27, 1954, and sometimes traveled as an infant with her mother, nurse and her mother’s best friend and Bonnie’s Godmother, Babe Zaharias, around the fledgling LPGA Tour. Bullet ran the resort operation while Peggy played the tour and began what would become a life-long passion of teaching golf—particularly to women.
Bonnie learned from her parents and their friends every step of the way.
“Mom had us kids stuffing mailers to resort guests and hand-addressing them for a dime a day,” Bonnie said. “I’m sure it looked good to get something hand-addressed by a twelve-year-old. We closed down in the summer, and we’d take the reservation books to the pool and answer the phones while swimming and sun-bathing. It was a great life.”
Bonnie graduated from Pinecrest High in 1973 and played basketball and golf. She attended St. Mary’s Jr. College from 1973-75 and played golf & basketball at Rollins College (her mother’s alma mater) from 1975-76. She then transferred to the University of North Carolina and was there from 1976-78, graduating in 1978 with a degree in education and playing on the golf team. She led the squad with the lowest stroke average during the 1978 season.
The Bells were welcoming and accommodating to college golfers from around the nation, and Bonnie took a special interest in a young golfer from Brigham Young University visiting in the late 1970s. She and Pat McGowan were married in 1981, had two children and traveled the PGA Tour together in the 1980s and ‘90s and later taught lessons and golf schools together at Pine Needles.
Bonnie was known — through the Sandhills area, by the thousands of guests and pupils at Pine Needles, by her UNC Tar Heel family, her PGA Tour Wives family and countless other connections — as a giver of her time, love, expertise and resources. She touched hundreds of lives through her Christian teaching, golf instruction and the example she set through life.
Bonnie was involved in a myriad of activities through her life, most notably working for more than four decades as an instructor in Pine Needles’ renowned “Golfaris,” the name taken from the idea of a weeklong “safari into golf.”
She became active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes while in high school, and that organization was a bedrock throughout her life. She taught FCA at the O’Neal School for 10 years and enjoyed her service work and network throughout the golf world through her work with the FCA Golfing Ministry. She was a member of Brownson Memorial Presbyterian Church in Southern Pines.
She was a Pine Needles Country Club Inc. board member; a former director and president of the PGA Tour Wives Association in 1985 and ‘86; a former board member of the Sandhills Children’s Center; a former Student Huddle Leader at the O’Neal School; and an assistant coach with the women’s golf team at Sandhills Community College.
Bonnie also had an interest in clothing design and fashion and started BBM Designs (golf jewelry, infant shoes and other golf-related items) and co-owned with Lucille Ray, Player’s Design (golf and outerwear apparel).
She was preceded in death by her father, Warren “Bullet” Bell and her mother, Peggy Kirk Bell; she is survived by her husband, Pat McGowan, of Southern Pines; two children, Michael and Scotti, both also of Southern Pines; grandson James Bullet; and two siblings, Peggy Ann Bell Miller (Kelly) of Southern Pines and Warren Kirk Bell (Sallie Beth) of Washington, D.C., and the many nieces & nephews she so loved.
A memorial service will be held Wednesday, January 18th at 2:00pm at Brownson Presbyterian Church in Southern Pines. Following the service, the family welcomes all to a celebration of Bonnie’s life at Pine Needles.