Saturday, October 20, 2012

FarmLinks: The EPCOT of Golf

No. 5 at FarmLinks Golf Club in Alabama
From cotton fields and pastures of cattle, to home of a revolutionary fertilizer and a learning ground for countless golf course superintendents, the story behind Central Alabama’s FarmLinks at Pursell Farms is fascinating. Jump to read some of the history below.

Our Experience

I was pulling double duty as a freelance writer and course rater, so the scope of my experience exceeded the normal span between the first tee shot and final putt. A group of writers occupied a couple of the cabins on property and prepared for a few days of activity.

Before teeing it up, we headed to the clubhouse for some lunch. Not the normal burger or hot dog, mind you. No, this was a top-notch buffet of gourmet cuisine. Red carpet for the writers? No. Anyone who ponies up for that day’s greens fees is entitled to this feast.

Clubs on cart and a visit to the spacious practice facility behind us, we hit the course. The first thing you’ll note from this Hurdzan-Frye design are the generous landing areas and large greens.

Feel good about your game through the first three holes (and hope you didn’t give away too many strokes), because the test begins on No. 4. From the tips - or Longhorn tees, as they’re called - this par 4 is a monster ... measuring 478 yards. Regardless of your tee selection, if you didn’t get all of your drive, you may be forced to lay up short of the gorge in front of the elevated green.

Escape No. 4 with whatever you took and prepare to enjoy the view from FarmLinks’ signature hole - the par 3 fifth. While the card says it’s 210 yards from the deepest tee, subtract about 45 yards to make up for the breathtaking elevation drop. Short is dead, so take ample club. Note: Even if you have no intention of hitting a ball from the back tee, take the walk/ride to the top for an amazing view of this hole and surrounding area.

To avoid getting into a hole-by-hole punch list of the course, let me say this ... FarmLinks is an excellent mix of long and short holes. There is ample sand and water that comes into play, but at no point do you feel inundated with potential penalties. While fairways are generous, stray too far and you’ll find trouble. In addition, you will play every club in your bag at some point as your round unfolds.

The course is terrific. Kudos to the design and build teams. A special recognition has to go out to Director of Agronomy Mark Langner and his maintenance staff, however. You can travel far and wide and not come across a better-groomed layout. Every blade of grass is manicured. This was (and is) the world’s first (and only) research-and-demonstration course, after all.

What’s a research-and-demonstration course? It’s a living laboratory. Agronomists test fungicides and pesticides on various turfs across the country - Ohio State, Penn State, North Carolina State, etc. - but what’s better than testing on an actual course? You may play an iron off a Zoysia fairway on one hole and a Bermuda fairway the next. Still think grass is grass? Play FarmLinks and you’ll know better!

Considering the quality of this course, greens fees are minimal - ranging from $100-135, depending on when you tee off. Admittedly, that’s not cheap for 18 holes, but look at all that’s included: All-day golf, unlimited use of practice facilities, range balls, golf cart, the aforementioned Southern-style lunch in the clubhouse, snacks and beverages, ice-cold apples on the course and chilled, mango-scented towels delivered to you on hot days. Play 18 holes after 2 p.m. with no lunch and it’s only $75.

5-Stand Clay Shooting
Calling FarmLinks a great daily fee course is selling it short. The owners are in the process of expanding its stay-and-play offerings to resort status. From the Parker Lodge and Hamilton Place Guest House to cottages and cabins, there’s something to match any need.

Not a golfer? No worries ... FarmLinks is more than a golf course, and it goes beyond terrific hunting (dove, quail, turkey or deer) and fishing. Anyone with a desire can try their hand at 5-stand clay shooting.

Whether playing golf for the day - or over several days, planning a meeting or even a wedding, Southern Hospitality is alive and well at FarmLinks. When thinking Alabama golf, don’t limit yourself to the well-publicized trail. Add FarmLinks to your travel plans.

History

While the Pursell family business started with DeWitt Parker in the early 1900s, it was when Jimmy Pursell bought the small fertilizer company from his father-in-law that things really began to evolve. A sulfur-coated urea advanced the age of slow-release fertilizers, catapulting the company to national prominence.

Jimmy’s son, David, took the next giant leap toward FarmLinks. Combining his passion for golf and business savvy, David turned the sales and marketing approach upside down. Instead of sending staff out to sell their product, he brought customers in to experience it for themselves.

The dream of building a top-notch golf course was present, and a 1998 meeting between David and Michael Hurdzan (Hurdzan-Frye Environmental Golf Design) advanced the vision one giant step closer to fruition. In 2001, ground was broken on what was to become FarmLinks Golf Club.

With partners Club Car, Toro and Syngenta  in place, FarmLinks became a life-sized classroom and playground for superintendents. The Experience at FarmLinks was a multi-day visit on the world’s first (and only) research and demonstration golf course - a “living laboratory.”

To date, more than 10,000 superintendents have visited FarmLinks, testing out new equipment or studying the 30-plus types of turfgrasses on the property.

Editor's Note: Rob Thomas is a freelance writer based out of Cleveland, Ohio.

Contact: AmericanGolferBlog@gmail.com

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