If you’ve never heard of Sylacauga, Alabama, you are probably not alone. If you are a golfer and have never heard of it, you need to hear about it. This tiny town just southeast of Birmingham, located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains is home to, in my opinion, the finest golf resort in the South, Pursell Farms and FarmLinks Golf Course.
David Pursell, the current CEO and third generation family member to run the business should be thanked for having the vision to create this one-of-a-kind paradise. David, his father, his grandfather and his great-grandfather should also be thanked for the family values that they have passed down from generation to generation. This world needs more of that.
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to write a series of articles on Pursell Farms and FarmLinks Golf Course. The first article will be about the History of the farm and how the golf course came about.
The Family Tree and The Farm
David Pursell’s great-grandfather, DeWitt Alexander Parker, founded The Sylacauga Fertilizer Company in 1904. When he died in 1930, Pursell’s grandfather, Howard Arrington Parker, took over and ran it until the early 1960s.
Jimmy Pursell (David’s father) became a part of the family business when he married his wife Chris. Howard Parker, Chris’ dad, impressed upon Jimmy the importance of family and those values were embedded deeply into Jimmy, who in turn passed them down to David.
David grew up working in the family business, shoveling cottonseed in the warehouse. “All through high school I worked in the family fertilizer plant here in Sylacauga,” he remembered. “Went to Auburn, came back every summer, worked on the family farm here. Or doing something with the family business. So, when I got out of Auburn in December of 1980 it was never even a thought of going to work anywhere else. This was something I knew. It was in my blood, but it was a passion because I knew so much about it. It was kind of like ‘Hey, this is my family heritage.’”
As David remembers “It’s been all about these different generations of people, the land and the fertilizer business. There were a lot of cows involved, always. And the mealtime conversations I just remember about the company. Even though I was young when I was coming up in the business, I actually was not sheltered from really anything about the fertilizer business itself. So, I learned a lot just around the dinner table.”
This farm has history, in fact a lot of history. Historic routes crossed the land, from Indian trails to what was the Eureka Railroad, which transported timber as well as marble from Sylacauga’s vast white marble vein.
Andrew Jackson, Davey Crockett and Sam Houston all marched across the land, as well as Hernando de Soto. In fact, you can find raised mounds near what is now the 9th hole, that are said to be earthworks that were built up to protect de Soto and his men while they were camped here.
The grandaddy of all the history on the farm is The Historic Hamilton Place. Before being restored, this Greek Revival-style raised cottage built in 1852 by Benjamin H. Averiett, was nothing but a tin-roofed dilapidated structure that had been used to store hay and sometimes housed cows in the basement. After restoration, this house was called home by Jimmy and Chris Pursell for thirty-years.
With so much U.S. History found on the property it is easy to get sidetracked from the history of the golf course, but that is what this article is about, so…
The fertilizer business is what started it all. The Sylacauga Fertilizer Company was always on the leading edge of developing new fertilizers and in the late 1980s, acquired the rights to a new technology that coated fertilizer. The thickness of the coating would allow for optimal absorption which in turn would allow the fertilizer to meet the exact nutritional needs of any plant in any geography in the world. This technology would revolutionize the agronomy industry.
The only problem was this new POLYON fertilizer was more expensive than traditional fertilizers. To gain momentum in the golf course industry, David needed a way to reach the golf course industry professionals to show them the benefits of POLYON.
David came up with the idea to create a research-and-demonstration golf course–an eighteen-hole fertilizer showplace, with a verity of grasses. Instead of sending sales reps to the golf courses, why not bring the decision makers to the farm for a show-and-tell, where they could be educated and see first-hand the benefits of POLYON.
Course architects Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry were hired. In the Summer of 2001 construction started, then in September 9/11 rocked the world. Pursell family members had what they referred to as a “come to Jesus meeting” to discuss the future of the project. It was decided, in their words, “we ain’t gonna let a bunch of terrorists change the way we do business” and construction continued.
This wasn’t going to be a course designed to impress potential homebuyers or members. This was going to be a course to impress golf course superintendents and industry professionals. With so much acreage to work with, this course was designed without compromise, holes could be moved around to preserve the natural layout and beauty of the land.
In 2003, the “experiment” finally opened. Twice a week groups were brought in for “The Experience at FarmLinks”. Three days and two nights of true Southern Hospitality, which included golf, southern cooking, a tour of the plant and the most important part, seeing the products in a real laboratory, on the golf course that is repeatedly named one of the state’s best by Golfweek.
As David adds, “with the beauty of the property, it was a pretty easy sell once we got ‘em here.”
Word of mouth was all that was needed to make an invitation to The Pursell Farms Experience a coveted award by golf course industry professionals from all over the world.
If fact, it worked so well that over 10,000 golf course industry professionals have been hosted on the property. David occasionally runs into some of these previous guests and they still remember everything about their trip. Talk about leaving a lasting impression!
In just a few years, this fertilizer showplace had become more than a research-and-demonstration golf course. As good as The Experiment was, the family decided to sell the fertilizer business and turn their focus on creating the premier regional family farm resort.
“Build it and they will come” could have never been a truer statement.
…continued next week as we explore The Farm’s amenities that don’t have to do with golf.