Designed by Dr Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry, the course at FarmLinks Golf Club opened its tees for play in 2003 and has never looked back. Routed generously though part of the 3,500-acre Pursell Farms estate in Sylacauga, FarmLinks continues to garner golfing admirers and for good reasons.
The course forms the sporting focal point of a property that is part resort, part research and learning centre, where the boundaries of agronomy and agriculture are constantly being pushed by a family business that has been successfully operating in this line of business since 1904.
Feature holes include the pond-protected par fours at the 2nd and 9th and the long, downhill par threes at the 5th and 8th. On the back nine, the 616-yard 18th is a formidable closing hole, with a couple of large oak trees and three fairway bunkers blocking the most direct route to the home green.
The following edited extract by architect Michael Hurdzan is from Volume Six of Golf Architecture: A Worldwide Perspective. Reproduced with kind permission. To obtain a copy of the book, email Paul Daley at [email protected].
“At the epicentre of FarmLinks is the Pursell family, who for generations has lived on farms near Sylacauga, about fifty miles south of Birmingham. In 1904, descendants of the family formed and managed the Sylacauga Fertiliser Company that served local cotton farmers.
As each successful generation took over and managed the company, they sought to develop new technologies and markets. Over time, they developed a worldwide market for their high-tech fertiliser, Polyon, an encapsulated, slow-release fertiliser that is ideal for golf courses.
To showcase ground-breaking products, Pursell Technologies began to offer tours of its fertiliser plant. In 2001, under the leadership of then-CEO David Pursell, the firm began construction of his vision for FarmLinks golf course – the world’s first research and development golf course ‘to serve as a living laboratory’.
When FarmLinks opened in 2003, Pursell could then show clients their products in actual use on the course. So, at first, FarmLinks was intended as a way to demonstrate and market Pursell technologies products: but David saw how an even broader impact could be made by having so-called partners.
Importantly, these partners would not be competitors but rather companies that made and sold irrigation equipment, mowers and maintenance equipment, golf cars and pest control. Under this arrangement, these companies could now also test, compare and market their products on a course dedicated to Best Management Practices.
So, FarmLinks’ second incarnation was a broad-based industry showcase. Pursell Technologies sold its fertiliser business in 2008 but kept the golf course and its partners. The year 2011 marked the third life for FarmLinks: the world’s first educational program tailored for greens’ committee members and non-technical course superintendents.
Since the goal for the golf course was outreach education, small groups of superintendents and golf officials are invited to come to FarmLinks and stay for a couple of days of relaxed education. The guests stay at Parker Lodger, meals are prepared and served family-style in the large dining room, and guests relax and socialise in the great room, game room or multi-purpose room.
The program is wildly successful. Even so, David Pursell believed that the outreach was too limited; and so they re-evaluated and decided to develop a program for non-technical decision makers, such as those who chair the greens’ committees, sports turf supervisors and international guests interested in golf.
The intention is to give the students enough basic agronomy and business practice, and mix the knowledge liberally with hands-on practical exercise on the golf course. At the end, it is hoped the student understands how grass grows, the stresses caused by maintenance (and) what the superintendent has to do to counter those stresses.
FarmLinks is far more than just a fun test of golf, for it is also a living laboratory and educational outreach facility that distinguishes it as ‘first among equals’. Plans are to continue to expand the invitation list to include a wider variety of international guests from countries where golf is well-established, as well as places where golf is just starting to grow.”
This hidden gem is one of my Top 10 courses I have ever played (this includes Pebble Beach, Southern Hills, Wolf Creek, etc).
Conditions, people, facilities, food, everything is 5*. The course is fantastic and the conditions are impeccable. Unbelievable variety of holes, with the Par 3 #6 my favorite. A 200yd tee shot that drops 150ft to a green far below!
The only drawback is getting to Sylacauga - but if you combine this course with the RTJ Trail, you will have the golf trip of a lifetime for pennies on the $.