Far Hills, New Jersey, United States: The United States Golf Association (USGA) will bestow its highest honour, the Bob Jones Award, to Judy Bell.
Presented annually since 1955, the Bob Jones Award recognises an individual who demonstrates the spirit, personal character and respect for the game exhibited by Jones, winner of nine USGA championships.
Known for her generous spirit and larger-than-life personality, Bell has championed a welcoming and accessible game as one of its most prominent ambassadors for more than six decades.
“Judy is a towering presence in golf and her contributions to shaping the USGA can be seen to this day,” said Tom O’Toole Jr, President of the USGA. “Her devotion to the game makes her a worthy recipient of our organisation’s most prestigious honour.
“From her earliest days as an accomplished player through her tenure as USGA President, Judy has been a staunch advocate and diplomat for the game. Those mantles were always delivered with her unique kindness and infectious personality. Judy is a real treasure!”
The USGA’s first female President (1996-1997), Bell possesses a passion for women’s and girls’ golf that continues today, particularly through the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf programme, which she helped found.
Her two-year USGA presidential tenure was hallmarked by the establishment of the ‘For the Good of the Game’ grants programme, which dedicated more than US$65 million toward national and local projects devoted to improving the lives of communities through accessible golf.
“Judy has an amazing capacity to connect with people of all walks of life,” said Steve Czarnecki, a fellow of the USGA Foundation and its Assistant Director of grants and fellowship for 13 years. “To her, the USGA committee member, golf course superintendent at a host club, USGA staff member or state and regional golf association representative is every bit as important as anyone else in the sport – herself included. Judy wanted everyone to have an opportunity to experience the game and benefit from the many wonderful lessons it conveys.”
On the course, Bell was a passionate and well-respected amateur player who competed in 38 USGA championships, including three trips to the US Women’s Amateur quarter-finals and one US Girls’ Junior semi-final appearance.
She also won three consecutive Kansas State Women’s Amateur titles from 1952-1954, the first at age 15. Bell also competed for the victorious 1960 and 1962 USA Curtis Cup teams and captained the 1986 and 1988 USA teams. The Women’s State Team Championship Trophy was named after her in 1998.
“Judy was the most fun captain I had in my playing career,” said Carol Semple Thompson, a seven-time USGA champion and 12-time USA Curtis Cup team member. “She makes everyone feel welcome and happy. She is also a pioneer, becoming one of the most important women in golf administration. Her advancement to the Executive Committee and presidency was a natural progression of her hard work, her passion for the amateur game, and her relationships with so many players and people in golf.”
“Tom O’Toole called me the other night and we chatted a while,” said Bell. “Then he told me that I was going to get the Bob Jones Award. I was floored and in denial. Tom is a great friend and finally convinced me it was real. I’m honoured beyond words.”
Bell was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in the Lifetime Achievement category in 2001. She is also a member of the Wichita Sports Hall of Fame, Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, National Golf Coaches Association Hall of Fame and Colorado Sports Hall of Fame, among others.
Both the PGA and LPGA have recognised her contributions to golf through honorary membership and the Patty Berg Award, respectively, as well as the American Society of Golf Course Architects with its Donald Ross Award.
In 2015, Bell was named ‘Woman of the Century’ by the Colorado Golf Association. That same year, she became an honorary member of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews.
Bell joins a list of Bob Jones Award winners that includes national champions such as Francis Ouimet (1955), Babe Didrikson Zaharias (1957), Arnold Palmer (1971), Jack Nicklaus (1975), Ben Hogan (1976), Annika Sorenstam (2012) and Payne Stewart (2014), as well as those who have contributed to the fabric of the game in other meaningful ways such as Richard S. Tufts (1967), Joe Dey (1977), Bing Crosby and Bob Hope (1978), PJ Boatwright Jr (1993), President George HW Bush (2008) and Barbara Nicklaus (2015).