FarmLinks celebrates 10 years in the making
By Ian Thompson
FarmLinks has been in existence for almost eight years and is looking ahead to a banner year that will include hosting the Alabama Golf Association’s State Amateur Championship June 9-12.
I’ve made many visits to FarmLinks and and have never failed to enjoy the beauty of the land and the warmth of the people involved.
David Pursell, along with his parents, Jimmy and Chris Pursell, own this beautiful facility.
I recall in June 2001, at the groundbreaking festivities for FarmLinks, David was not afraid to espouse the Christian principles upon which this business is run, nor did he hold back the tears that flowed down his cheeks at various points through a moving, yet at times very humorous, program.
This is typical David.
Two years later the course opened, touted as the world’s first research and demonstration golf course. It’s still the only course of its kind in the world and is found near Fayetteville and Sylacauga.
The course was built on land that has been in the Pursell family for many years. It is always in pristine condition. Essential for a course that is used primarily to sell Polyon time-release fertilizer and affiliated products, which used to be the family business until the Pursells sold it to international conglomerate Agrium in 2006.
D.P., as he is known by many of his friends, spoke of his pride that FarmLinks will host the AGA’s crown jewel, the State Amateur.
He is also justifiably pleased that Golfweek Magazine (March 11 issue) named the course the No. 1 public access facility in the state, a pinnacle it had not previously reached.
It has also been recognized by the National Golf Foundation for the top score in the country in receiving their annual Customer Loyalty Award for the fourth straight year in the premium daily fee category.
“This is honest feedback from golfers who have visited. It enables them to rate their entire golf experience.”
An experience is undoubtedly what the golfer gets when they visit FarmLinks and it begins the minute you turn through the gates and meander a few miles through wooded vistas, gurgling streams and past longhorn cattle and horses.
“We could have spent a lot less money on the drive in to the course, but it’s all about building an experience and that builds as you drive.”
I remember telling David I doubted his premise for FarmLinks would work. I said you couldn’t charge $100 (it’s now $135) in this market. The all-inclusive price includes golf all day long, cart, range balls, food and soft drinks.
“People have really embraced the concept and continue to do so.”
Good for the Pursell family. Just as well they didn’t listen to me.
Spend time with the Pursell family and they treat you like family, their family. It is this philosophy that spills over into all that they do. Most days Jimmy and Chris will eat lunch at the clubhouse and they never fail to thank people for being on “the Farm.” It’s this personal touch that golfers remember long after the final putt of the day has dropped.
Research and demonstration refers to superintendents being able to be hands on when they visit and see the the results of various Agrium products when they are applied to different types of grass in a golf course environment. They term this “The Experience at FarmLinks.” FarmLinks also partners with Toro, Club Car, BASF and other vendors to allow them to demonstrate their products to this captive audience.
However, the course does not exist in a vacuum as it is open to the public year round, with no members.
“It was very important to us to have a golf course that is living and breathing and is played regularly,” David said.
They average 1000 to 1200 superintendent “Experience” visitors a year, plus around 15,000 public rounds a year, as well as hosting 25-30 charitable events that raise well over $1 million net for those charities.
A major change occurred in August 2006 when Agrium, based in Alberta, Canada, purchased Pursell Technologies, the Pursell family owned company that produced Polyon time-release fertilizers.
(Agrium continues to operate the Sylacauga plant that produces many different versions of Polyon.)
However, they did not buy the golf course because it was not for sale.
The chief focus of FarmLinks remains unchanged as Agrium has a multiyear arrangement with the course to continue “The Experience at FarmLinks.”
However, it has also turned very much into a destination with the advent of seven cottages for guests to rent when they stay overnight and play. Two are to the right of the 18th fairway, with five more located near the 11th fairway. These five are built in a circle around a short game area.
Combined with the existing Parker Lodge that overlooks the 17th green, they have a total of 39 rooms and 77 beds.
Each cottage room comes with its very own Club Car golf car. So once you park your car when you arrive for your visit, you need not use it again until you leave.
Jimmy and Chris’s old home, Hamilton Place, circa 1852, is also used on occasion for private functions, such as weddings.
Also, within the last couple of years, the corporate headquarters for FarmLinks and adjacent educational pavilion have been built and can be seen from multiple holes including Nos. 4, 11 and 12. Their original HQ is leased by Agrium, so Pursell and his team needed somewhere to “hang their hat” as they conduct day-to-day operations.
They were designed with a barn motif in keeping with the farm atmosphere seen throughout FarmLinks.
Both buildings, though rustic on the outside, are high tech on the inside. Case in point is a room designed specifically to gauge the feedback of focus groups, which will be housed in the educational pavilion.
David is not one to sit still and let time pass him idly by. I did get him to take a walk down memory lane however...
He is an articulate man of strong convictions and expects excellence in service and course conditions. Therefore the jobs of Mark Langner, Director of Agronomy & Applied Research at FarmLinks, and course superintendent David DeWeese, are challenging, yet rewarding. Imagine over 1000 experts in your field effectively critiquing your work every year and you get the picture.
He is also a steward of the land and as such plays a large role in environmental stewardship with the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America.
After all, this is his family’s land and he’s walked every square inch of it. Some tire swings remain to the left of No. 7 where he used to swing his six children as they would enjoy their land, which, through FarmLinks, is now enjoyed by thousands of visitors every year and will be for generations to come.