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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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GolfWRX is the world's largest and best online golf community. Expert editorial reviews, breaking golf tour and industry news, what to play, how to play and where to play. GolfWRX surrounds consumers throughout the buying, learning and enrichment process from original photographic and video content, to peer to peer advice and camaraderie, to technical how-tos, and more. As the largest online golf community we continue to protect the purity of our members opinions and the platform to voice them. We want to protect the interests of golfers by providing an unbiased platform to feel proud to contribute to for years to come. You can follow GolfWRX on Twitter @GolfWRX and on Facebook.

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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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Ari’s Course Reviews: Oakmont Country Club



Editor’s Note: Ari Techner is a well-traveled, golf-course connoisseur who’s setting out to review the best golf courses in the world. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are his own. 

Oakmont Country Club. The name alone strikes fear into the heart of any mortal golfer. Oakmont has a reputation for difficulty unmatched in the golf world; it’s fear forged in the public’s eye while watching best players in the world struggle during the U.S. Open every 10-plus years or so. There is a notion that Oakmont could hold a U.S. Open just about any day of the year. This is not a course that needs to be tweaked from its daily setup to test the best in the world.

All that said, a close look at the course reveals that there is so much more to Oakmont than just difficulty. Since around 1950, MANY courses have been built with the dilebrate intention of holding a U.S. Open. Most, if not all, of these courses are filled with water hazards, extremely long holes and very little variety. Oakmont is the exact opposite of that, and this is what is at the core of its greatness.

A view from the ninth fairway

Oakmont Country Club first opened in 1903 and was designed by Henry Fownes, who built it because he felt the other courses around Pittsburgh were not difficult enough. The course was constantly tweaked in the early years by Fownes and his son William. Both Fownes were accomplished players with William winning the U.S. Amateur in 1910 and serving as the playing captain of the first U.S. Walker Cup team in 1922.

Trees, or no trees?

The 18th tee

The course was extremely influential in the development of early golf courses in America. It was equally influential in future years by setting trends that have changed the way many other courses have evolved. When Oakmont opened, it was built in an open field and had no trees on the course, adding to the links-like flavor that Fownes wanted from his visits overseas. In the 1950s (after all the Fownes had left the club) Oakmont added thousands of non-native trees to line the corridors of the holes, a look that was a heavy trend of the time. This work was mostly done by Robert Trent Jones, who also modified the bunkers to fit more of his style of the time.

The course continued to evolve over the years with the bunkers being restored by Tom Fazio… but the trees remained. In preparation for the 2008 U.S. Open, Oakmont cut down thousands of trees, returning the course to its open, windswept origins. This was very controversial among the members, and much of the work was done in the middle of the night in the off-season so as not to cause a big stir. After 2008, thousands more trees have been cut down, opening all of the amazing long views across the property. You can see almost every hole on the property from just about every spot on the course. Oakmont was the first course to embrace this massive tree removal and it has turned into a trend with hundreds of classic courses removing their non-native trees and going back to their more open original layouts.

Oakmont is the only course that Fownes designed and I believe that contributes greatly to its uniqueness. Fownes’ version of difficulty did not include artificial water hazards, out of bounds or excessive bunkering fronting greens, and it did not rely simply on longer-than-average holes to challenge the golfer. Instead, it has an amazingly varied mix of holes that challenge the golfer in a variety of ways both mentally and physically. Overall, the course requires you to be a straight driver of the ball, a good iron player and to have a deft short game and putting touch. You also need to be able to think your way around the course while you execute the shots you choose at a high level.

A good variety

Oakmont has its share of length with long par 4s, such as hole Nos. 1, 10, 15 and 18, the monster par-5 12th and long par 3s such as Nos. 8 and 16.  What sets the course apart to me, however, are the short holes and the holes that require strategic decision-making off the tee. These include short par 4s such Nos. 2, 11 and 17 and mid-length par 4s including Nos. 5 and 14.  These holes can be just as difficult as the long ones, and they require a completely different skill set.  The short par-3 13th and short par-5 9th (plays as a par 4 for the U.S. Open) round out what is an amazing set of shorter holes.

A view of the ninth fairway from across the Pennsylvania Turnpike

The course uses the natural movement of the site very well and has a tight, extremely walkable routing despite being bisected by the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the bottom of the hill in the middle of the property. I particularly love the fallaway greens at 1, 10, 12, and to a lesser degree 3 and 15 where the front of the green is higher than the back. This is a unique look that you do not see in the USA very often. Without the little backboard that a back-to-front sloping green provides, you must hit the ball solid or execute a well played run-up shot to hold the green. The short par 4s temp the long hitter just enough to make them think about hitting driver, but wayward shots are punished enough to make most think twice. The 17th, at a little under 300 yards, could be the hardest hole on the course, and yet it is definitely drivable for the right player who hits a great drive. The small and extremely narrow green requires a short shot be hit the perfect distance if you decide to lay up to the right down the fairway. Hit it even a little short and you end up in the aptly named “Big Mouth” bunker which is extremely deep. Hit it a hair long or with not enough spin to hold the green and you end up rolling over the green into one of a few smaller bunkers. Carry the bunkers on the left side off the tee into the sliver of fairway up by the green and you have a short, open shot from a much better angle into the fatter part of the green. Such risk/reward and great use of angles is paramount to Oakmont’s genius.

Green complexes are…complex

The green on the 18th hole

Oakmont also sports one of the best sets of greens anywhere in the world.  They are all heavily contoured and very challenging, yet playable. You can certainly make putts out there if you are putting well, but get on the wrong side of the hole and you are left with an extremely difficult, but rarely impossible 2 putt. They are also very unique due to Fownes only designing one course, as they do not look like any other classic course; they have a feel all their own. They are mostly open in front, coming from the correct angle, and they have many squarish edges. They also cut the tight fringe far back into the fairway, which aids in run-up shots; it also gives a great look where the green and the fairway blend together seamlessly.

The bunkering is also very unique and very special… and they are true hazards. Find yourself in a fairway bunker off the tee, and you are likely wedging out without much of any chance of reaching the greens. The green-side bunkers are fearsome, very deep and difficult. The construction of the bunkers is unique too — most of them have very steep and tall faces that were built up in the line of play. Oakmont is also home to one of the most famous bunkers in golf; the “Church Pews” bunkers — a large, long rectangular bunker between the fairways of holes 3 and 4 with strips of grass in the middle like the pews in a church. There is also a smaller “Church Pews” bunker left of the fairway off the tee on hole 15. Hit it into one of these two bunkers and good luck finding a descent lie.

Ari’s last word

All-in-all, along with being one of the hardest courses in the world, Oakmont is also one of the best courses in the world. It is hard enough to challenge even the best players in the world day-in and day-out, but it can easily be played by a 15-handicap without losing a ball. It is extremely unique and varied and requires you to use every club in your bag along with your brain to be successful. Add that to a club that has as much history as any other in the county, and Oakmont is one of golf’s incredibly special places.

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Coming Up: A Big Golf Adventure



My name is Jacob Sjöman, and I’m a 35-year-old golf photographer who also enjoys the game we all love. I will be sharing some experiences here on a big golf trip that we are doing. With me I’ve got my friend Johan. I will introduce him properly later, but he is quite a funny character. According to Johan, he is the best golf photo assistant in the world, and we will see about that since this is probably his biggest test yet doing this trip. Previously on our trips, Johan almost got us killed in Dubai with a lack of driving skills. He also missed a recent evening photo shoot in Bulgaria while having a few beers too many… and that’s not all.

Anyway, the last couple of days I’ve been packing my bags over and over. I came home from the Canary Islands this Sunday and I’ve been constantly checking and rechecking that we’ve got all the required equipment, batteries, and that the cameras are 100 percent functional and good to go for this golf trip. I’m still not sure, but in a couple of minutes I will be sitting in a taxi to the airport and there will be no turning back.

Where are we going then? We are going to visit some of the very best golf courses in New Zealand and Australia. There will be breathtaking golf on cliffsides, jaw-dropping scenic courses, and some hidden gems. And probably a big amount of lost balls with a lot of material produced in the end.

I couldn’t be more excited for a golf journey like this one. Flying around the globe to these special golf courses I’ve only dreamed about visiting before gives me a big kick and I feel almost feel like a Indiana Jones. The only thing we’ve got in common, though, is that we don’t like snakes. Australia seems to be one of the worst destinations to visit in that purpose, but all the upsides are massive in this.

First, we will take off from a cold Stockholm (it’s raining heavily outside at the moment) and then we will do our first stop at Doha in Quatar. Then after two more hours, we are finally heading off to Auckland on the north island of New Zealand, a mega-flight of 16 hours. I believe that could very well be one of the longest flights available for a ordinary airplane. I need to check that.

Flights for me usually mean work, editing photos from different golf courses I’ve visited, writing some texts, editing some films, and planning for the future. Last time, though, I finally managed to sleep a little, which is a welcome progress for a guy that was deadly scared of flying until 2008.

Now, I am perfectly fine with flying. A few rocky flights over the Atlantic Sea to Detroit helped me a lot, and my motto is now, “If those flights got me down on the ground safely, it takes a lot of failures to bring down a plane.”

Anyway, I hope you will join me on this golf trip. Stay tuned!

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Streamsong’s New Black Course Might Be Its Best Course



Up until four years ago, there wasn’t a lot to see or do in the flat stretch of Polk County, Florida, between Tampa and Orlando. That all changed in 2012 with the opening of Streamsong Resort, the wildly popular destination that seamlessly combines rugged golf courses and sophisticated indoor spaces in a way that’s completely unique and altogether appealing.

With its Red Course (designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw) and Blue Course (designed by Tom Doak) firmly established among the finest public courses in the country, Streamsong unveiled its newest member of the family, the Black Course on September 25. Designed by Gil Hanse (designer of the Olympic Golf Course in Brazil, Castle Stuart in Scotland, and Mossy Oak in Mississippi), the Black Course has been among the most highly anticipated course openings in recent years.


Gil Hanse at the Streamsong Black course opening event.

Weighing in at 7,337 yards and a healthy 74.7 rating/135 slope from the back tees, the Black Course is both a beauty and a beast. In the spirit of its predecessors, Hanse has beautifully incorporated elevation and undulation to create a track that is visually stunning and challenging to play. The rolling land, resurrected from its previous life as a phosphate mine, has a firm sandy base that evokes the look and feel of the links-style tracks in the Melbourne Sandbelt in Australia. And in constructing the course, Hanse selected turf grasses that give maximum roll out and encouraged conditioning that allows the same kind of creative shotmaking that is available on links courses.

Streansong Resort Black Course

No. 10 at Streamsong Black

While there is a premium on shotmaking, The Black Course puts equal, if not more value, on good decision making. Throughout the journey you can choose to be Joe Citizen or G.I. Joe, going for safety or going for glory. Hole No. 4, a 601-yard par-5 features a cantilevered split fairway that gives the player several routes to negotiate the path home based on ability and the conditions of the day. Nos. 6 and 14 are short par 4’s that tempt the big hitter to go for broke, but failure results in a trip to one of the Black Course’s yawning bunkers or open sandy areas, both signature features of Hanse’s recent designs.

Perhaps the most prominent feature of the course are the sprawling greens that have contours that border on the surreal. Speaking of borders, there are none on the greens. Hanse decided to go with large greens that come right out to the fairway, allowing putting opportunities from almost anywhere. The most dramatic of the greens complexes is No. 9, a 450-yard par-4. Players hit a blind second shot into a “punch bowl” green that literally has to be seen to be believed. You’ll be talking about it after the round… whether you finish the hole with a 3 or an X.

Another distinctive feature is found on the par-4 13th, which features two greens that are alternated daily to give players another challenge and another story to tell after the round.


The Streamsong Black clubhouse

The clubhouse, designed by the award-wining Alonso Architechts (who also designed the Streamsong Lodge), is as stunning an accomplishment as the golf course. Employing the forward-looking design concept of the Lodge, the minimalist glass-and-steel design offers breathtaking views of the Florida sunrises and sunsets whether you are in the cool indoors or next to the Gauntlet putting green outside. And the Bone Valley Tavern is a showcase for Executive Chef Mike Ford’s mouth-watering food and craft cocktails (try the Black Martini).


Throughout the day of the preview and ribbon-cutting, there was a sense of pride and joy more similar to the delivery of a newborn than the opening of a golf course. Hanse was emotional while giving his opening remarks, giving special acknowledgment to his Lead Designer Jim Wagner.

“I am so proud that Jim’s name is beside mine on the plaque that says who designed the course,” Hanse said while fighting back tears. His passion was shared by all, including those present from parent company Mosaic, which owns some 200,000 acres in the area, including the resort property.

“This is a labor of love and I am proud of and grateful for everyone who contributed to making this happen,” said Rich Mack, the Mosaic executive who is the visionary behind Streamsong.


No. 9 at Streamsong Black

Those who expect to get a run at Streamsong Black had better get moving. Management officials said they’re already talking reservations for 2018. Anyone fortunate enough to get a slot will not be disappointed.

“We were aware of the level of excellence here at Streamsong, and we knew we had to meet that standard,” Hanse said. “But we also wanted to do something different, something special. We wanted to make a course that was beautiful and challenging, but above all it should be fun.” These will be welcome words to the traveling golfer who is faced with ever longer and more difficult resort courses.

In an industry that specializes in tradition but often lacks vision, Streamsong has planted a beacon on the horizon for what the future of the resort golf experience can and should be.

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19th Hole