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TripWRX: Fertile FarmLinks



By Wayne Mills

Special to GolfWRX

Wayne Mills is a New England-based freelance writer who has been producing golf stories for over 20 years. He has written for national publications such as Golf Inc. and superintendent-related, regional golf-lifestyle magazines and websites in the Northeast, Midwest and Southwest and was a golf columnist for two daily newspapers. He has played over 700 golf courses from Canada to the Caribbean and from Cape Cod to California.

Unique is quite possibly the most misused word in the English language. It’s supposed to mean something like one-of-a-kind or more precisely the only one in the world but gets applied to places that are pretty good or merely kind of different. Based on the strict definition, FarmLinks, in Sylacauga, Ala., is unique.  As the world’s only research and demonstration golf course, FarmLinks is a proving ground for the golf industry’s most advanced products and techniques.

The story of FarmLinks begins in 1904 at a family owned fertilizer factory in the small town of Sylacauga in rural Alabama about an hour southwest of Birmingham. D. A. Parker (born 1866) and family used to produce fertilizer for local farms when King Cotton ruled agriculture in the Deep South and Eli Whitney’s cotton gin made separation of cotton fiber and cotton seeds economically feasible.

His son Howard (born 1896) took over the business and grew it into cotton ginning and warehousing operations as well but his big move was in the mid-1950s when the company made its first foray into the lawn and garden market with a product called Sta-Green plant food.

The transition from farm market to mass retail was effectuated greatly when Jimmy Pursell (born 1930) married Howard’s daughter. After graduating high school up the road in Talladega, Jimmy went off to Auburn University (then the Alabama Polytechnical Institute) and came home with a degree in business administration.

After serving in the military during the Korean War, Jimmy returned to Sylacauga and went to work for his father-in-law in the fertilizer business. After being taught the ins and outs by Howard, Jimmy became responsible for expanding the Sta-Green franchise to hardware stores and nurseries throughout the Southeast.

Soon the specialty fertilizer portion outgrew the farm products business. As the business grew, more new products and markets were explored. One of the milestones that set them apart from their competition was the development of slow-release and controlled-release fertilizers. With that in mind, the company worked closely with the Tennessee Valley Authority in the introduction of high-quality, sulfur-coated urea in 1973. The company eventually built its own sulfur-coated urea plant, which thrust the company into the international arena and identified them as a leader in fertilizer technology.

That technology produced another breakthrough with the early use of Reactive Layers Coating (RLC) starting in 1987. It took several years to perfect the technology and make it practical, but the company eventually earned patents for it under the tradename Polyon. Using the RLC process exclusively, the company soon became the largest producer of coated time release fertilizers in the world. Over the years, Jimmy created several operating divisions in the organization to better serve the varied needs and demands of customers. The company became Pursell Industries and split into two separate entities in the late 1990s.

In the meanwhile, the next generation of the Pursell family came into the business, David Pursell (born 1959). David also attended Auburn but had an artistic bent and majored in commercial art. He joined the family trade after school and started an in-house advertising division. Later he advanced to director of sales and marketing. By 1997 he was CEO of the combined Pursell Technologies.

Along the way David became enamored with the game of golf, getting down to a single digit handicap and as the golf course boom of the 1980’s and 1990’s took off, selling fertilizer to the golf course maintenance industry became a significant aspect for Pursell Industries.

Over the course of time the Pursell family also acquired an old farm outside Sylacauga that encompassed 3,500 acres naming it Pursell Farms. Combining his golf avocation and his agricultural vocation with his artists mind, David’s ah-hah moment came in 2001 when he conceived and initiated construction of his long time vision, FarmLinks Golf Club.


The golf course became a research and demonstration course intended to improve the entire golf industry through its ability to serve as a living laboratory and ongoing focus group for industry leaders. On June 4, 2003, the vision came to fruition as 550 guests, including family friend, Jim Nabors, and Gov. Bob Riley, made their way to Sylacauga to celebrate the official opening of the 7,444-yard, par 72 Hurdzan-Fry design course.

Partnering with corporate sponsors such as Toro, Club Car, Agrium, BASF, TruTurf, Profile Golf, Vortex, Wacker Neuson, Frey Lit Designs, and Foley United, Farm Links has hosted over 1,000 golf course superintendents a year from around the world since opening.

The visiting supers get to study turf grasses, fertilizers, drainage systems, irrigation systems, pump stations, water management, bunker liners, pest control, tractors, mowers and blades.

Proving he is very adept at ah-hah moments, David Pursell sold out the fertilizer business to Agrium in early 2006, just before the financial crash of that year. He was gracious enough to accept their $100 million payment. He likened it to “paddling down a lazy river in your canoe and deciding to pull out a mile above Niagara Falls.”

While still maintaining their course maintenance focus, Pursell Industries and FarmLinks are moving more into the hospitality business.

FarmLinks offers some spiffy accommodations in their cabins, cottages and the Parker Lodge. To call them cottages and cabins is being quite modest. They feature private baths, great room, stone fireplace, kitchen and dining area, covered porch and golf cart parking (each guest gets their own golf cart to drive around the property.)


If anyone is looking for a corporate or group meeting facility FarmLinks really shines in this department featuring:

MEETING SPACE: Select from several conference rooms equipped with HD plasma screens, high-speed wireless Internet access and convenient laptop connections for AV presentations.

HIGH-TECH THEATER: For larger multimedia presentations, break-out sessions, movies or receptions, our state-of-the-art Solutions Center features a high-tech presentation theater, indoor/outdoor demonstration areas, a kitchen and dining area and a large, covered patio space with fully equipped audio capabilities. 

FOCUS GROUP CAPABILITIES: And to gain immediate feedback, suggestions and opinions from your audience/clients, our focus group facility with one-way observation room are the ideal choice.

FarmLinks Golf Club is just a joy to play. The Hurdzan and Fry design gives plenty of room off the tee but, of course, there are better angles coming into the greens than others. The routing winds through the full gamut of elevations from along the streams on flat ground, up on the rolling hills and all the way into the side of the Appalachian Mountains foothills for the par 3, fifth-hole tee (210 from the tips) that plays 175 feet downhill to a massive green.

If you hit the ball in the fairway you will never have a bad lie at FarmLinks and the bentgrass greens are as good as they get. Having bent this far south is not an easy maintenance chore but with their sub-air systems, large fans and hand watering FarmLinks gets it done.

With five sets of tees from 5,250 to 7,444 FarmLinks gives every level of player a chance. The 6,970 and 6,457 tees are good options for the stronger players.

Anyone who wants to really improve their game can sign up for the FarmLinks Golf Academy. Layne Savoie is the lead instructor directing all programs ranging from junior golf programs to corporate leisure packages. A wide variety of individual instruction is also available for guests with specific needs or varied interests. Savoie played at Auburn, won as a professional, taught players on the PGA Tour, learned from the best teachers in the country, coached All-Americans, and recruited the highest ranked players in the world. Savoie is a very dedicated teaching pro who really tunes into your game.

Stay and play options are offered but there is a great deal for day trippers- an all inclusive green fee, cart fee, range balls, all non-alcoholic beverages and lunch; plus, you can play more than 18 holes (on a space-available basis).


The food is superb and served up in the cozy clubhouse and in a bow to the hospitality trade, FarmLinks now has a full liquor license. Given their strong agricultural connection, they feature fresh farm to table vegetables, fruits and meats and have brought in 5-star chefs to prepare for their guests.

Other diversions offered at FarmLinks include a five stand skeet shooting range and two ponds that are managed for lunker largemouth bass. All the necessary equipment can be provided.

For true outdoorsmen early-season dove hunts start in September, followed by quail hunting with the finest bird dogs in the South. Knowledgeable, courteous guides will take guests on turkey hunts in the spring, and guided deer hunts in November.

The entire FarmLinks experience is just one mellow and relaxing place. The staff covers all the bases but with laid-back Southern hospitality that is never intrusive. You can feel the tension and stress slip away the longer you stay.


If for some reason being really mellow all the time isn’t your style, plan your trip for early May or early October and head a few miles up the road to Talladega Superspeedway for a NASCAR race. There you can commune with 143,000 of your closest friends and watch the boys wheel it at the highest speeds of the season on NASCAR’s fastest track.

In 1987 Bill Elliott established the world stock car speed record of 212.809 miles per hour in qualifying and in 1997 Mark Martin won the race with an average speed over 500 miles in excess of 188 mph.

FarmLinks is not only unique but a special place for a couples trip, a corporate retreat, a buddies trip or just a great day of golf. It will take some effort to get there but the reward is well worth it.

Click here for more discussion in the “Courses and Travel” forum.

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  1. Bob Forberg

    Oct 13, 2012 at 8:36 am

    One of the best I’ve played. They make you feel like a member and treat you like a pro. It’s a great day and their muffins are wonderful. The course is close to perfection re. the conditions!!

  2. BC11

    Sep 5, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    This is by far one of the most fun courses in the southeast!

  3. Dan

    Jul 29, 2012 at 9:10 am

    FarmLinks is not cheap, but there are plenty more resorts that cost much more and provide less in quality. Hence, FarmLinks is a value. The resort and staff deliver excellent service, amenities and lodging. I have been there three times now and can’t wait to get back there. The course is superb, with a Hurdzan-Fry design that leaves you intriguiged and more appreciative with each round. And the Pursell family’s genuine, Southern hospitality is a warm, welcome salve for those seeking a rejuvenating getaway.

  4. Author

    Jul 28, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    The cost PER DAY to play the course is $135 which includes unlimited golf, cart, lunch and unlimited soft drinks. That hardly qualifies it as “a place for rich people.”

  5. mort

    Jul 28, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    oh, look! a place for rich people! sometimes i despise the game of golf and its crowd.

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Kingston Heath: The Hype is Real



We touched ground late in the afternoon at Melbourne Airport and checked in very, very late at hotel Grand Hyatt. Don’t ask about our driving and navigating skills. It shouldn’t have taken us as long as we did. Even with GPS we failed miserably, but our dear friend had been so kind to arrange a room with a magnificent view on the 32nd floor for us.

(C) Jacob Sjöman.

The skyline in Melbourne was amazing, and what a vibrant, multicultural city Melbourne turned out to be when we later visited the streets to catch a late dinner. The next morning, we headed out to one of the finest golf courses that you can find Down Under: Kingston Heath. We had heard so many great things about this course, and to be honest we were a bit worried it almost was too hyped up. Luckily, there were no disappointments.

Early morning at Kingston Heath C) Jacob Sjöman.

Here’s the thing about Kingston Heath. You’re driving in the middle of a suburb in Melbourne and then suddenly you see the sign, “Kingston Heath.” Very shortly after the turn, you’re at the club. This is very different than the other golf courses we’ve visited on this trip Down Under, where we’ve had to drive for several miles to get from the front gates to the club house.

(C) Jacob Sjöman.

Nevertheless, this course and its wonderful turf danced in front of us from the very first minute of our arrival. With a perfect sunrise and a very picture friendly magic morning mist, we walked out on the course and captured a few photos. Well, hundreds to be honest. The shapes and details are so pure and well defined.

(C) Jacob Sjöman.

Kingston Heath was designed by Dan Soutar back in 1925 with help and guidance from the legendary golf architect Dr. Alister MacKenzie, who added to its excellent bunkering system. Dr. MacKenzie’s only design suggestion was to change Soutar’s 15th hole from a 222-yard par-4 (with a blind tee shot) to a par-3. Today, this hole is considered to be one the best par-3 holes Down Under, and I can understand why.

I am normally not a big fan of flat courses, but I will make a rare exception for Kingston Heath. It’s a course that’s both fun and puts your strategic skills to a serious test. Our experience is that you need to plan your shots carefully, and never forget to stay out of its deep bunkers. They’re not easy.

The bunker shapes are brilliant. (C) Jacob Sjöman.

Kingston Heath is not super long in distance, but it will still give you a tough test. You definitely need to be straight to earn a good score. If you are in Melbourne, this is the golf course I would recommend above all others.

Next up: Metropolitan. Stay tuned!

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Barnbougle Lost Farm: 20 Holes of Pure Joy



Another early day in Tasmania, and we were exploring the Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw-design, Barnbougle Lost Farm. The course was completed in 2010, four years after the neighbor Barnbougle Dunes, resulting in much excitement in the world of golf upon opening.

Johan and I teed off at 10 a.m. to enjoy the course at our own pace in its full glory under clear blue skies. Barnbougle Lost Farm starts out quite easy, but it quickly turns into a true test of links golf. You will certainly need to bring some tactical and smart planning in order to get close to many of the pin positions.

The third hole is a prime example. With its sloping two-tiered green, it provides a fun challenge and makes you earn birdie — even if your tee and approach shots put you in a good position. This is one of the things I love about this course; it adds a welcome dimension to the game and something you probably don’t experience on most golf courses.

(C) Jacob Sjöman.

The 4th is an iconic signature hole called “Sals Point,” named after course owner Richard Sattler’s wife (she was hoping to build a summer home on the property before it was turned into a golf course). A strikingly beautiful par-3, this hole is short in distance but guarded with luring bunkers. When the prevailing northwesterly wind comes howling in from the ocean, the hole will leave you exposed and pulling out one of your long irons for the tee shot. We left No. 4 with two bogeys with a strong desire for revenge.

Later in the round, we notice our scorecard had a hole numbered “13A” just after the 13th. We then noticed there was also an “18A.” That’s because Barnbougle Lost Farm offers golfers 20 holes. The designers believed that 13A was “too good to leave out” of the main routing, and 18A acts as a final betting hole to help decide a winner if you’re left all square. And yes, we played both 13A and 18A.

I need to say I liked Lost Farm for many reasons; it feels fresh and has some quirky holes including the 5th and the breathtaking 4th. The fact that it balks tradition with 20 holes is something I love. It also feels like an (almost) flawless course, and you will find new things to enjoy every time you play it.

The big question after trying both courses at Barnbougle is which course I liked best. I would go for Barnbougle Dunes in front of Barnbougle Lost Farm, mostly because I felt it was more fun and offered a bigger variation on how to play the holes. Both courses are great, however, offering really fun golf. And as I wrote in the first part of this Barnbougle-story, this is a top destination to visit and something you definitely need to experience with your golf friends if you can. It’s a golfing heaven.

Next course up: Kingston Heath in Melbourne.

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Barnbougle Dunes: World Class Golf



We arrived to Launceston Airport in Tasmania just before sunset. Located on the Northeast Coast of Australia’s island state, Tasmania, Barnbougle is almost as far from Sweden as it gets… yet it immediately felt like home when we arrived.

Launceston Airport, Tasmania. (C) Jacob Sjöman.

The drive from the airport was just over an hour, taking us through deep forests and rolling hills before we arrived to Barnbougle Golf Resort, which consists of two courses — The Dunes and Lost Farm — a lodge, two restaurants, a sports bar and a spa. Unfortunately, it was pitch black outside and we couldn’t see much of the two courses on our arrival. I would like to add that both Johan and I were extremely excited about visiting this golf mecca. We later enjoyed a tasty dinner at the Barnbougle Lost Farm Restaurant before we called it a day.

The locals at Barnbougle Dunes. (C) Jacob Sjöman.

The next day, we woke up early and got out to The Dunes Course as very first guests out. Well, to be quite honest, we weren’t actually the first out. There were a few locals — Wallabies, lots of them — already out on the course. The natural landscape at Barnbougle is fantastic and my cameras almost overheated with the photo opportunities. After two intense hours of recording videos and producing photos both from ground, we headed back to Lost Farm for a wonderful breakfast (and view). After our breakfast, it was time to try our luck.

“Tom’s Little Devil.” Hole No.7 at Barnbougle Dunes. (C) Jacob Sjöman.

Before describing our experience playing the courses, I would like to mention about Richard Sattler, a potato farmer and owner of Barnbougle. In the early 2000’s, Richard was introduced to U.S. golfing visionary Mike Keiser, who had heard about his amazing stretch of farmland in Tasmania and came down to visit. Mike convinced Richard that Barnbougle (which at that stage was a potato farm and still grows potatoes and raises cattle today) might be perfect for creating a top quality golf course.

After an introduction to well renowned golf architect Tom Doak and the formation of a partnership with former Australian golf pro and golf architect Mike Clayton, the development of the Barnbougle Dunes Course commenced.

The walk between the 4th and 5th holes. (C) Jacob Sjöman.

Featuring large bunkers dotted between fun rolling fairways shaped from the coastal dunes, Barnbougle Dunes offers the golfer some tough challenges, in particular on the first nine. This is indeed a course that will entertain all kinds of golfers.

After our round, we looked back at some fantastic highlights such as playing the iconic 7th hole, a short par-3 called ”Tom’s Little Devil,” as well as the beautiful par-4 15th. We were just two big walking smiles sitting there in the restaurant to be honest. Lets also not forget one of the biggest (and deepest) bunkers I’ve seen at the 4th hole. The name of the bunker is “Jaws.” Good times!

As a small surprise for Johan, I had arranged a meeting after our round with Richard Sattler. Richard, ever the farmer, entered the car parking just in front of the clubhouse in a white pick-up van with a big smile un his face. We talked to Richard for almost 30 minutes. He is an extremely humble man and left such a warm impression on us. Richard explained the Barnbougle story: how it all began and the property today.

To me, this is a high-end golf destination offering something very unique with two world-class courses in Barnbougle Dunes and Barnbougle Lost Farm, both ranked in the top-100 greatest golf courses by Golf Digest and Golf Magazine (U.S.). With the courses located just next to each other, it’s probably one of the best golf resorts you can find down under and a golf resort that I would like bring my hardcore golfing friends to visit. Everything here is exceptional with the resort providing spacious rooms, comfy beds, good food and spectacular views.

(C) Jacob Sjöman.

Barnbougle Dunes is a real treat to play for any golfer and will leave you with a sweet golfing memory. Compared to the golf courses available on the more remote King Island, Barnbougle is accessible (given Tasmania is connected by better flight connections) and the hospitality and service at is much more refined.

The golf resort is one of the absolute best I’ve been to. I can also highly recommend playing Barnbougle Dunes; I had great fun and you can play it in many ways. Tomorrow, we will be playing and experiencing the other course at Barnbougle: Barnbougle Lost Farm, a Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw course with 20 (!) holes.

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19th Hole