When you have a chance to spend some time with the force behind a 100-plus-year-old family business like Pursell Farms in Sylacauga, Alabama, which includes a golf course like FarmLinks (rated “No. 1 All Access Course in Alabama” from 2013-2019 by Golfweek) and a growing resort with accommodations, amenities and dining options that are routinely given five-star reviews by anyone who visits, you jump at the opportunity.
And that’s exactly what “Talking GolfGetaways” hosts Mitch Laurance and Darin Bunch did recently, and the result is a fantastic podcast with Pursell Farms CEO David Pursell. Our latest episode opens by asking David, a passionate golfer since the age of 8, about his “dream foursome” as a followup to an answer Pursell gave many years ago in another interview. His answer ties him to the world of politics, but not necessarily in the way you’d expect — and it’s perfect beginning to learning about a life and business career that has been anything but predictable.
David follows with a fascinating journey through his family history, beginning all the way back in the early 1900s with his great-great-grandfather DeWitt Alexander Parker and the Sylacauga Fertilizer Company. David detailing the story of four generations and how the fertilizer business became the foundation of modern-day Pursell Farms and FarmLinks is worth every minute. You’ll hear about his own out-of-the box thinking on bringing in talented architects Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry and how their environmentally-friendly philosophy blended perfectly with his own vision to use FarmLinks as a revolutionary “living laboratory” for agronomy practices in golf.
David details how his background in the fertilizer business helped create “The Experience at FarmLinks,” a program unlike any other in existence, in which superintendents from around the world were brought to Pursell Farms and, in a cooperative, give-and-take atmosphere of teaching and learning, shared knowledge on cutting-edge practices in golf-course maintenance while discovering the uniquely peaceful, welcoming environment that still resonates at Pursell Farms today. David concludes this part of the podcast by describing the ongoing turf grass showcase that is FarmLinks, which includes 35 different grass types throughout the course, and which stands as the only course of its kind anywhere in the world.
Pursell then talks about the FarmLinks course itself — a combination of lower farmland holes and dramatic elevation-changing challenges, beautifully woven together by Hurdzan and Fry into a seamless golf experience played out on hundreds of acres. In true storytelling fashion (David is a master), he shares a couple of tales about how some of the more unusual hole names came about, and his pride in telling us about the award-winning FarmLinks is evident.
The remainder of this episode deals with the Pursell Farms resort itself. David explains how what began as a golf-course project evolved into a true Central Alabama destination, beginning with a variety of guest-focused accommodations, including the new estate-style Inn at Pursell Farms, the grand Parker Lodge, and luxurious four-bedroom cabins and cottages decorated with the design talent and attention to detail of David’s wife, Ellen, to make each deluxe lodging choice unique and memorable. David talks about the other amenities that make Pursell Farms special, too, from the ORVIS Shooting Grounds to the Spring House Spa to the horseback rides and fishing.
And then there’s the food-and-beverage operation (close to Darin’s heart, if you’ve ever heard him rave about Old Tom’s Pub at Pursell Farms). David shares insight into the philosophy behind the resort’s eateries, which include the new, upscale Arrington at The Inn (overlooking FarmLinks’ 18th hole with pastoral views as far as the eye can see), the Clubhouse Grille for breakfast and lunch, and the Scottish-American Old Tom’s Pub — a tribute to our game’s first golf course superintendent, Old Tom Morris. The Pub not only offers a memorable combination of Scottish and American favorites (and some awesome milkshakes), but also has a very unique piece of furniture. David regales us with a wonderful story about his family’s connection to legendary performer Jim Nabors (Gomer Pyle) and how his pool table wound up as a centerpiece of Old Tom’s Pub. (Further incentive, if you need it: You can play on a table that has seen everyone from Ronald Reagan to Frank Sinatra to Michael Jackson shoot some balls.)
Finally, David shares his thoughts on how Pursell Farms and FarmLinks work to share the Alabama golf spotlight with the famed Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. His answer is respectful, informative and, in this case, expected, telling us what anyone who has visited Pursell Farms already knows: That he and his family have given us all a fabulous, truly unique destination that is worth our time and travel.
As he eloquently says when asked why Pursell Farms is special to those who’ve visited, “When they’re driving into the Farm, they feel a real peace come over them, a release from the city, from all their responsibility. And they’ve come to a place where they can rest. That is something that our family really sticks our chest out about.”
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