12 Jan 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.
In lieu of flowers, memorials can be made to theFellowship of Christian Athletes Golf Ministry and The Peggy Kirk Bell Girls Golf Tour via Girls Golf of America.
Greg LeckerPosted at 19:19h, 12 January
Bonnie is one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. In life, she was famous the day she was born. You would never know it, Bonnie took her fame and gave it all back. She wasn’t fancy, she was cool. There was nothing better than to watch Bonnie tell a funny story.
Candace A. LewisPosted at 08:39h, 13 January
I am scheduled to attend my 10th session of Golfari–this February. Why do I keep coming back? For Bonnie. She was the toughest, most demanding of the instructors–but, with the passage of time, a true friend and passionate teacher. I’d quake at the thought she’d be our instructor for the afternoon sessions–couldn’t escape her critical eye. Nonetheless, all of us benefited so incredibly by her leadership and love of the game. Rest in peace, my friend–you are missed.
Chris McDonaldPosted at 11:59h, 13 January
This is where it all started for me in golf and Bonnie and Pat and family were great mentors for me Bonnie helped on some personal and professional issues that I was able to overcome she was a wonderful person and will be missed I cannot attend the service because of personal issues but god bless you all
Dale R. Perne'Posted at 14:36h, 13 January
Her parents, Peggy & Bullet, were my Godparents. I was always “in love” with Bonnie as we were friends at Pine Needles when my parents stayed there every winter. I attended a “youth Golfari” and spent all my free time at the Bells home and the clubhouse. While I traveled the tour 40 weeks a year, it was always great to see her and Pat at many events. It was like going home. Godspeed Bonnie, you were a wonderful person. My best to you Pat, I lost a 45 year old daughter this past October, so I feel your pain.
Kristen PepePosted at 16:50h, 13 January
Bonnie was kind, honest and humble. Her personality and quick wit reminded me so much of Mrs. Bell! I had the opportunity to visit with Bonnie around Thanksgiving. She had wonderful stories and a beautiful smile…I could have sat with her for days!
She was one special person. Heaven gained an angel when she passed. I trust she is golfing in heaven with PKB! I feel very fortunate to have considered her a friend.
Sending love to all of the family! I miss her already…
Ann Kirk RickenbachPosted at 19:42h, 13 January
As a kid growing up, our family would stop either on way up or back from Ohio on vacation to see Aunt Peg, Bullet, Bonnie, Peggy Ann & Kirk & to spend time at the Pool or riding in the Golf carts..always had such fun and getting into trouble every so often… I took my daughter, Erin, to the Kirk Reunion to introduce her to Bonnie, Peggy Ann and all the family..It was so much fun & Pine Needles brought back so many memories.. My sincere condolences to Pat & family. Bonnie was always so outgoing, funny, & welcoming.. She is with the angels
LINDA CALLAHANPosted at 08:54h, 14 January
There is and never will be another Bonnie. She was simply the best at everything she did. She was so passionate about teaching women the game of golf. Her patient never ended. She would work with me one on one as long as it took, The last time I sat and talked with Bonnie,I had travel down to play golf at Pine Needles with a couple other friends, she took time out of her busy day sit down with me, talked with me and wrote me pages of notes, including hand drawn stick figures to make sure I got it. She did not meet a stranger. She treated us all like family and never forgot to face or name with all the students that came through golfiri. She never forgot your strengths or weaknesses.
Thank you, Bonnie for seeing me, helping me, encouraging me, and always being there for me, being a phone call or text away, I will carry you in my heart always, you will be sorely missed. Rest in eternal peace, my prayers and deepest condolences to the family.
Anne SimonsPosted at 10:27h, 14 January
Bonnie was a champion of a person and left an indelible mark on the lives who were fortunate enough to cross her path. Rest in peace Bonnie.
JoAnn SmallPosted at 14:26h, 14 January
An absolute treasure. I was fortunate enough to be on the St. Mary’s golf team with Bonnie. On occasion, her mother would assist Mary Lou Jones with our instruction. I am grateful for my “Bonnie time” at Golfari. She was an inspiration on and off the golf course. Sincere condolences to Pat and her family.
Kathy NewboldPosted at 17:26h, 14 January
I am deeply grieved by the loss of Bonnie, who was such a bright light in this world. I knew her only through Golfari, but one needed not years of close association to see what an extraordinary presence she was. A talented golfer and an insightful, compassionate instructor she took struggling wanna- be- better golfers and instilled in them the skills needed to become confident, capable golfers. Besides her passion for golf and instructing, Bonnie was always optimistic, and empathic, caring more about others than herself. She was firm in her faith, ..God’s hands and feet in this world. She was, I am sure, a valiant fighter against this insidious disease. Now her rest is won.
Most sincere condolences to the whole family.
AnonymousPosted at 19:50h, 16 January
Our prayers are with the family. We fondly remember sitting next to Bonnie at the wedding of Charles and Helen Sigel’s Wilson’s son in the late 70’s when I was the professional at Philadelphia Country Club. Got to see her briefly again when l was the professional at Governors Club in Chapel Hill from 1998-2002.
A true professional and a great lady, Rest In Peace and enjoy eternity with our Lord and Savior.
Deb and Jerry PepePosted at 09:52h, 17 January
Bonnie , what a wonderful woman, wife, mother , sister and friend.
Babe Zaharias was right, Bonnie was as wonderful as her mother.
She was always a presence , was quick to speak to and welcome people , In that instant she met you , you were no longer a stranger but a friend.
Her passion for the place that is Pine Needles ,was deep. I remember reading an article where the person who interviewed her said this is a special place, she said it is spiritual. She was a great steward of the property and a woman of great faith.
The Joy of the Lord was in her heart and touched every part of her life and those who were in it.
I will miss her, her spirit, her faith, her love and her passion.
We were all so lucky to have had the opportunity to know her and have her in our lives.
I can’t imagine Pine Needles without her.
Our deepest sympathy to Pat, Michael, Scotti, Peggy and the entire family