Hunting, fishing, golfing and more can be found at Pursell Farms
By Jennifer Kornegay
The gentle rolling hills and quiet countryside on the borders of Sylacauga are no real surprise; our state is rife with similar rural scenery. But the luxury of Pursell Farms, the 3,500-acre resort sprawling across this landscape, comes as a revelation. There’s nothing opulent or over the top at this family owned and operated escape, but by making its guests feel almost instantly and continually at home and relaxed, it lives up to the definition of luxurious nonetheless. From the professional, yet friendly service and the world-class golf to the chef-driven cuisine and rustic elegance of the accommodations, a weekend (or longer) at Pursell Farms is a getaway in every sense of the word.
Pursell Farms began not as a resort, but as a marketing tool to sell Pursell Technologies Inc.’s controlled-release fertilizer process. It was a “If you show them, they will buy it,” kind of idea.
“Most of our competitors were well entrenched, better known and outselling us by a large margin. Their marketing strategy was pretty institutional, just using outside salesmen and trade advertising to try to get their story out. Our strategy was totally relational,” CEO and co-founder David Pursell explains. Pursell Technologies flew their target market — golf course superintendents and ornamental nursery growers — in for a show and tell called “The Experience at FarmLinks.”
The mostly male groups spent three nights and two days learning about the somewhat complicated product and having fun, eating fabulous food, sleeping in beautiful rooms and playing golf on what’s been hailed one of the finest courses in the Southeast. Using the golf course as an outdoor classroom to demonstrate their product usually sealed the deal.
“Each golf hole had our products used in a real-world working environment. Some holes had our products side by side versus our competitors,” Pursell said. “By the end of their visit, most of these prospects would make up their minds to give our products a try on their course, which was our main objective. The product’s performance would do the rest of the selling.”
In 2006, Pursell Technologies was sold, but the Pursell family couldn’t bear to part with the property. They still run the research and education arm of FarmLinks and teach course superintendents the latest in agronomics, course care and more. But today, they’re also in the process of recreating the experience at Pursell Farms, transforming it into a pastoral playground that caters to the leisure traveler. “Planned expansion in 2014 will add new amenities that will help us attract more guests, including females and couples, to come spend a few days here,” Pursell said.
True Southern living
While it is a work in progress, there is already a lot to love at Pursell Farms, most notably beautiful natural surroundings and, no matter the weather, warmth in the form of welcome. It begins with your drive in. A picture-postcard-perfect scene, a sea of grass dotted with plump, round hay bales and resting longhorn cattle, greets you when you turn off the county road. You’ve only driven two miles into the property when you arrive at check in, but you’re 1,000 miles away from whatever stresses, worries or responsibilities were occupying your thoughts mere moments ago.
Whether you’re staying in a cottage, a cabin, the lovely Hamilton Place (built in 1854 and listed on the National Register of Historical Places) or the handsome Parker Lodge, you won’t be disappointed. “Everything we’ve built to date has been very high quality and memorable. We didn’t cut many corners. Since we live out here and work here every day, everything is a reflection of our family,” Pursell said. “Our staff here is also an extension of the Pursell family. They care a lot about everyone’s experience here.”
This commitment to service and quality is proven by Pursell Farms’ inclusion in the Southern Living Hotel Collection; the resort is a charter member. And if you happen to be a man, Pursell Farms is practically nirvana. In addition to the world-renowned golf course, activities at the resort include fishing in stocked, sparkling lakes; hunting turkey or quail; or clay target shooting using a state-of-the-art five stand.
The cottages and cabins are set around a private putting green and are specifically designed for a golf foursome, with four bedrooms and four private baths in each clustered around a den with a large flat-screen TV and a full kitchen (cottages) or kitchenette (cabins). The den in the cottages is complete with a massive stone fireplace. Each is named for famous names in golf like Jones, Hogan and Snead and includes personal Clubcar golf carts for use on the course and for driving around the property.
The main draw at Pursell Farms is undoubtedly its 7,444-yard championship golf course, FarmLinks. Once used primarily for research and demonstration purposes, it’s now the No. 1 public golf course in Alabama according to GolfWeek and is consistently ranked among Golf Digest’s top courses in the nation, two designations that speak volumes. “We are very proud of that,” Pursell said.
The course is wide open, with scenic vistas that can prove distracting to even a seasoned player. The tee box on hole No. 5 sits high atop a hill overlooking one of the area’s marble quarries, and a historic marker explains how a member of General Andrew Jackson’s militia actually discovered the deep vein of milky white marble while on their way to the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. This rare stone was used in the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and many other significant structures and is still prized today. Markers at other holes tell bits and pieces of the Pursell family’s story and point to the golf course’s environmentally friendly design.
Pursell bragged on the course’s par-3 holes. “Most say that we have the most incredible collection of par-3 holes of any golf course they have ever played,” he said. “They are all very picturesque and very fun to play. For instance, hole No. 5 plays over 200 yards from the tips, but due to the elevation drop, I’ve seen some people hit no more than a 9 iron.”
He also praised his personal favorite, the par-5 No. 18. “It sits alone in a field of over 250 acres of land. Some entire 18-hole golf courses are built on less than that!” he said. “The hole is 615 yards long, and the fairway is comprised of Zorro Zoysia Grass. It plays a little uphill and is very hard to get to the green in two shots. The two giant oak trees have to be considered when one hits their tee shot.”
Many players call it a “magnificent finish to a challenging but fun round of golf.”
A Feast for the Senses
As a full-service resort, Pursell Farms has put as much thought into feeding its guests as it has everything else and recently brought in classically trained Chef Andrea Griffith to head up its dining options. She was awarded the distinction of Certified Chef de Cuisine, the third level of achievement at the American Culinary Federation, among other honors, and has put her passion for food to good use at the resort. The result is an ever-changing menu focused on hearty, Southern foods prepared with the freshest, best ingredients she can find. “I believe in trying to use as much as I can from as close as possible and work all that into an approach to classic tradition and tastes,” she said. Using local, in-season products and produce from the onsite garden and other area farmers, Griffith lets the flavors of the ingredients speak for themselves.
The DogLeg sandwich is a tasty example of her approach to regional classics: Grilled Conecuh sausage is smothered in creamy, sharp pimento cheese on a crusty roll and served with a side of house-made potato chips and tangy homemade ketchup. The chef’s choice is the shrimp and grits, a bounty of big Gulf shrimp and bites of spicy Conecuh sausage resting in rich cheese grits and finished with a few drop of hot sauce made from peppers picked straight out of resort’s garden. “Others seem to like it too,” she said. “I’ve had folks from Louisiana tell me they are the best shrimp and grits they’ve ever had.”
Griffith considers this praise a huge compliment, especially since she didn’t know what a grit was until a few years ago. “I was born in Philadelphia, but I married a Southern boy and learned real quick,” she said. She gets her grits from McEwin Grits in Wilsonville (about 20 minutes away) and cooks them low and slow for about four and a half hours.
To enjoy her creations, you can grab a table at The Grille, which boasts an appetite-enhancing view of the 18th green, or guests of the cottages, Parker Lodge or the Hamilton House can arrange to have a gourmet meal cooked to order in their kitchen. Cabin guests have access to full-service catering from The Grille.
Pursell Farms has long been a haven for men, but the plan to increase its appeal to women and families while polishing its current offerings is in its finishing stages, according to Pursell. More guest rooms, a full-service spa, a new dining experience, a pool, tennis facilities and more meeting space are just a few of the additions on the horizon. “Our goal is to attract a much wider demographic of resort guests, beyond golfers,” he said. “But the golf here is some of the best in the state.”
As the word spreads about the resort, Pursell offered his thoughts on what makes the place special. “Most people that come here tell us that there is just a different feeling one gets when they stay here versus when they go to most other resort hotels. We just try to exceed everyone’s expectations,” he said. “I think when we are done here with the next phase of expansion, this place is really going to become the go-to place in the Southeast for a quality resort experience.”
Learn more about Pursell Farms and plan your visit at www.farmlinks.org.
More Alabama getaways
You don’t have to travel far to find a great getaway. Our state is full of escapes to the country as well as a golf trail that continues to earn national acclaim. Check out these other options for relaxing amid a rural landscape and for playing some world-class golf.
Five Star Plantation, Kellyton, Ala.
This historic retreat sits on 5,000 acres dotted with stands of mature trees and five stocked lakes. It first opened as a hunting preserve in 1919, and many of its structures, including the charming lodge, date back to the early 1900s. Enjoy dining, fishing, horseback riding and sporting clays in classic Southern comfort. www.fivestarplantation.com
The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail boasts 11 sites around the state with a total of 468 holes of amazing golf on courses that consistently garner spots on Golf Digest’s “best golf” lists as well as the praise of players who visit from around the country and the world. The resorts accompanying several of these courses are also hailed for their service, food and their award-winning spas. The Marriott Grand Hotel in Point Clear, sitting on the shores of Mobile Bay, is just one of the gems in this collection. www.rtjgolf.com