Truth be told, Sylacauga, Ala., was never fighting for a spot on my destination bucket list with, say, the Grand Canyon, since it’s mighty tough to include places you don’t know exist. Well, after an unexpected three-day trip to previously unknown Sylacauga, I’m already up for an encore visit.
My reason for schlepping to middle-of-nowhere Alabama was Pursell Farms, a boutique golf resort nestled in the Appalachian Mountains’ foothills 45 miles south of Birmingham and light years distant from my reality — otherwise known as lots of stress, noise and urban sprawl. Upon arrival at Pursell Farms our group blissfully traded the perpetual highway construction, traffic jams, crowds and worries of our everyday lives for 3,500 peaceful acres of rolling hills, oak and pine forests, native grasses and beautiful plantation land. Can you say, “Serenity Now?”
Truly, the only stress I felt during our visit was wondering how to accurately depict Pursell Farms, a property offering far more than just a world-class resort golf course. Golf Digest thinks enough of Pursell Farms to place it among its “75 Best Golf Resorts in North America” ranking (T-39).
Pursell Farms was founded in 1999 by the Pursell family, which owned a successful fertilizer business/technologies from 1904 until selling its holdings in 2006. The 7,444-yard, par-72 FarmLinks Golf Club at Pursell Farms — designed by the highly acclaimed team of Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry — has earned countless “best-of” awards since opening in 2003 as the world’s first and only agronomic research-and-demonstration golf facility. Given the family’s background, for the past decade Pursell Farms has hosted The Experience at FarmLinks, a state-of-the-art turf education program that annually draws 1,000 of the world’s top golf course superintendents, about 10 of which were visiting during our stay.
The golf course is literally a “living laboratory,” where tomorrow’s golf products are tested today. You won’t find more immaculate course conditions anywhere. To that end, each hole’s tees, fairways, greens and rough uniquely features a different variety of turfgrass.
While you probably won’t observe the differences unless you’re an agronomy geek, you will definitely notice the course is a mix of dramatic elevation changes, pristine fairways and immaculate greens. The panoramic views of the surrounding, unspoiled countryside — particularly from the top, rear tee box on the signature, 210-yard fifth hole, which has a 170-foot tee-to-green vertical drop — are stunning, particularly in the fall.
Also unique is that while there are seasonal 18-hole green fees, golfers can opt for an all-inclusive, daily fee of $135, which includes unlimited play, unlimited use of the practice facility (driving range, putting and chipping greens), a golf car, delicious lunch at the clubhouse, and unlimited snacks and non-alcoholic beverages.
Before you even reach the first tee y’all will discover Pursell Farms’ Southern hospitality is, well, unbelievable. Literally. Every Pursell Farms employee is so friendly and helpful that initially it seems too good to be true. But rest assured, these folks are genuine, and they truly enhance the experience.
As outstanding as the course is, golf is just the tip of the iceberg at Pursell Farms, which also includes world-class lodging, dining and meeting spaces; top-notch fishing and hunting; a five-stand clay shooting range; in-room spa services and a diverse wildlife habitat.
Pursell Farms — which has tentative plans to expand its resort offerings in 2013 — features five types of deluxe accommodations for nearly 80 guests, suiting any taste or need. Guests can choose from a cozy, Southern-style guesthouse or a rustic lodge with all the amenities, or they can relax as we did with the comforts of home in a spacious, four-bedroom cottage or cabin, whose guests get personal Club Car vehicles, handy for zipping around the sprawling property. Now that Pursell Farms has a liquor license, don’t get any crazy ideas to drink and drive — especially at night. Besides being illegal and stupid, it gets awfully dark in the woods of Sylacauga.
Another cool amenity is the large, PGA Tour-quality practice green behind the cottages that receives as much TLC as the course’s 18 putting surfaces. I discovered the only thing better than that first cup of early morning coffee is being able to work on your putting stroke in solitude — and your PJs — before tackling the course.
Then there’s Pursell Farms’ sumptuous, unbelievably delicious Southern food and beverage service. Quick lunches to full-course, huge-portioned private dinners are served, including the option of having your dinner prepared and served in your guest room. Our group enjoyed that option one night of our stay and I would strongly suggest you follow suit. The chefs work magic with the fresh organic produce grown in the resort’s one-acre vegetable garden. The Grille, FarmLinks’ clubhouse restaurant, has two HD Plasma-screen televisions and is available for luncheons, dinners, corporate events, business meetings, parties, weddings and receptions.
Pursell Farms’ small-meeting and event-quality services and spaces are perfect for groups looking to combine work, golf and bonding. The various meeting spaces have a capacity of nearly 300. Other than not having to work at all, what’s better than stepping out of a meeting directly onto an immaculate, uncrowded golf course?
Many guests actually flock to Pursell Farms for its non-golf sporting offerings. Approximately one-third of Pursell Farms’ vast acreage is intensely managed and prepared for guided preserve hunting for deer or turkey, or an afternoon dove, quail or duck hunt. Meanwhile, anglers of all ages and abilities can fish year-round for largemouth bass or bream in Pursell Farms’ expertly designed, man-made Lake Christine, Lodge Lake or Swamp Lake.
I’m a horrible angler, but I had a blast, so to speak, at Pursell Farms’ five-stand clay shooting range. Nine trap machines fire targets from all angles — from high-crossing shots, to rabbits to a wobble trap. I quickly discovered I’m also a lousy marksman, but it is great fun for novice and expert shooters — and is perfect for entertaining small groups. The unique range’s five stands are also all at different levels, so you’re shooting from five different heights. The combinations are endless.
Unfortunately, our visit wasn’t. In retrospect, other than chirping birds and a few on-course celebrations, our errant gunshots were the only noises we heard during our stay. To a guy usually surrounded by non-stop, high-volume craziness, that kind of solitude is priceless.
The Lowdown: Pursell Farms
• Pursell Farms, Sylacauga, AL (www.farmlinks.com; 877-292-3276)