The Camp Spirit Lives On

Fifty years ago, Peggy Kirk Bell started Youth Golfari as a way to get kids involved in the game of golf, while they experience a week of fun unlike any other. She and her husband Warren “Bullet” Bell ran the camp together, where she was one of the lead instructors and he ran the day to day operations. Over the years their own children attended the camps, but every kid felt like family.

Peggy Bell Miller, daughter of Peggy and Bullet, started attending the camp herself at age 10.

Back then, families would come together and the kids would stay for a couple weeks at a time – the first week would be more of a family camp and then the parents would leave and the following week would be all for the kids.

She remembers when she was attending camp as a kid, at the end of the week her dad would tell several campers his son’s age to call their parents and ask if they could stay an extra week. They would spend the week in their house, golf every day, eat meals with the family and enjoy summer vacation like they were one of the Bell’s.

It’s memories like that that encouraged Peggy to continue running this camp and treat every kid like family, the way her parents treated the friends they made over the years. The camp is about more than just improving your game.

Students learn the fundamentals of golf, everything from grip to on-course etiquette, in an environment that encourages them to get to know their fellow campers. While the camp is focused around improving their golf, they want this experience to encourage kids to always remember to have fun and love the game. They encourage healthy competition and love watching kids push themselves throughout the week. The counselors and instructors help facilitate a fun both on and off the course.

Along with many beginners attending camp, Peggy notes that as time has gone on, she’s noticed kids come to camp as better golfers at younger ages. They’re exposed to the game younger, and she loves that they can come to Youth Golfari to learn to enjoy the game in a fun atmosphere. “[Grown] people at tournaments will come up to me and say ‘hey, you might not remember me but I came to Youth Golfari in 1989’ and I’ll look closely and remember their face as a kid back then. “ She loves following kids through tournaments after they’ve aged out of Golfari, and loves when parents send clippings and updates on what their kids are doing the other 55 weeks out of the year that they aren’t at Golfari.

Through the golf, games and group activities, Peggy has watched (and experienced firsthand) kids forming lifelong friendships in this week of camp.

Bonnie Bell McGowan (center) and the Wilson sisters show off their swings during Youth Golfari.

“People I went to camp with went on to be bridesmaids in each other’s weddings” she recalls. “Some of our closest family friends to this day are campers we met back when I was attending Youth Golfari. We met several families, the Avis’, Robino’s and Whalen’s, through camp and would meet up for vacation at the lake over Labor Day each year and now our children and their children are close friends.”

Many of the children who fell in love with Youth Golfari are now grown, and send their children for the week long adventure. “Kids will come in and say ‘What night do we get to do the water slide?’ or ‘When do we get to go on the Snipe hunt?’ because their parents would share their memories of coming to camp as a kid.”

Since taking over the camp, Peggy and her husband Kelly have kept much of what her parents built the same at Youth Golfari. Other than adding the water slides that have been such a hit over the years or making small changes to the itinerary, the main changes have been in staffing. The camp now employs a nurse, “back in the day, Bonnie and I would just put a band aid on it and move on, but now we have a nurse that takes care of everyone’s needs.” They also beefed up the counselor to student ratio, so now they have 1 counselor for every 5 kids (same goes for the instructors) which helps keep everyone well-supervised and each counselor can help keep the kids busy and encourage the social part of camp. Each night, they get together to work on their bit for the talent show at the end of the week, where kids draw inspiration from their favorite songs, movies and hobbies and put together skits and dances. “One year, we performed the Michael Jackson Thriller dance” Peggy says with a smile on her face, “and the cutest one ever was a group of kids who slicked back their hair and performed an act from Grease.”

After a full day of activities, kids head to their rooms for 30 minutes to freshen up, and can call home during this time to check in with their parents before they head to dinner. For many of the younger kids, this is their first experience with sleep away camp, and having a shorter stay (1 week) paired with a full day of activities each day keeps them focused on how much fun their having, but some still of course get homesick.

“I have a meeting with the counselors each evening where I ask how everyone is doing, who’s feeling homesick and what I need to know. If there’s anyone to feel concerned about, I’ll give their parents a call just to give them the heads up that their kid is feeling a little homesick and this is how we’re helping them. I think it makes the parents feel reassured to know that we’re well aware of how their kids are feeling and we’re doing all we can to get them through it and help them enjoy the week.”

This year, Youth Golfari will celebrate 50 years from when Peggy and Warren Bell started it. Since 1969, the kids may have grown up and the games may be a little different, but lifelong friendships and the love of golf live on at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club.

Learn more about sending your kids on the adventure of the summer.

Sunday, July 7 – Saturday, July 13

• Six nights’ accommodations
• Breakfast, lunch & dinner daily
• Daily instruction from PGA and LPGA professionals
• More than 20 hours of golf instruction
• Daily activities (golf, swimming and tennis)
• Daily team events and competitions
• All taxes and service fees