FarmLinks at Pursell Farms – Field (& Mountain) & Stream

FarmLinks at Pursell Farms – Field (& Mountain) & Stream

The remarkable par-3 5th.

It can be a little difficult to describe FarmLinks, one of the more unique and entertaining golf destinations in the Southeast.

FarmLinks is the name of the golf course located on a bucolic 3,500-acre family-operated preserve about an hour south of Birmingham. The Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry design wanders freely just about everywhere over the enormous site, through meadows and streams, into woodlands and up into the elevated foothills that flank the central valley.

The entire site and operation, however, is called Pursell Farms, named for the Pursell’s who made their fortune developing slow-release fertilizer. Their estate is the site of FarmLinks, but it’s also a country resort with a handful of rustic but modern cabins and cottages with bluegrass music piping through public area speakers.

Perhaps more interesting, it’s an agronomic plantation where advances (much of it proprietorial) in fertilizers, applications and maintenance equipment are tested and demonstrated to agronomists and superintendents who visit for multi-day seminars and training. The golf course and extended areas are treated as turf laboratories, sporting different strains of southern grasses.

Playing from an elevated tee, the par-5 6th runs along the slope of Chalybeate Mountain.

For instance, the championship tee box on the par-5 1st hole is planted with an A1/A4 bentgrass blend. The forward tees are Zorro zoysia, Cavalier zoysia and Tifsport bermuda, respectively. The hole’s fairway is Tifway 419, the green is the A1/A4 blend and the rough is tall fescue.

Other holes sport combinations of these grasses with some Diamond zoysia and Paspalum mixed in, along with different roughs that include Broomsedge, Switchgrass and Lovegrass (all the greens are A1/A4).

Most players won’t notice any of this, though the ball sits up considerably more on fairways planted with the Zorro zoysia. But to industry types it offers valuable information about how the grasses react to different treatments throughout changing environments, soils and light exposures.

Many of the fairways slide seamlessly into the putting surfaces, like here at the par-5 first.

The variety of holes is impressive. The opening part of the course charges back and forth across former farmland in the property’s basin and includes a strong three-shot opener and a very good mid-length 3rd with a saddle-shaped green hidden behind a high, flashed bunker.

The par-3 5th is probably the most dramatic and memorable one-shot hole in the state. After a steep hike from the flatlands up to tees benched in the flanking foothills, it drops about 175-feet to a large green fronted by a depression and small creek. It’s one of the most vertiginous downhill holes I’ve seen.

The routing begins to work its way off this side of Chalybeate Mountain over the next few holes, returning to the lower fields. The 10th is another solid par-5 through the old farmland with cross-bunkers on the second shot and a difficult canted green. The 12-through-15 loop circling a grassy wetland is lackluster, but the course finishes in stride with a dogleg par-4 that climbs to a secluded, semi-blind green, a do-or-die par-3 over water and maybe the layout’s coolest hole, the enormously wide open par-5 18th over an expansive section of prairie.

This shot of the par-5 10th playing across the lower farm section gives indication of the width and scale of the holes.

This shot of the par-5 10th playing across the lower farm section gives an indication of the width and scale of the holes.

The best greens are those like the 1st, 2nd, 10th and 18th which sit low and play like extensions of the fairway. While the putting surfaces possess enough contour to remain interesting day-to-day, the articulated shaping and smooth shoulder rolls can strike a slightly plastic note.

The diverse topographical elements of the FarmLinks property – prairie, farmland, forest, creeks, ponds and mountainside – must have made the architect salivate. If there’s a flaw here it’s the way the parts all hang together — the different scenes are slightly too different. Rather than a story moving through acts out of sheer dramatic momentum, FarmLinks tilts toward being a series of good but slightly disconnected set pieces.

It’s difficult to fault the design for wanting to grab and utilize all the available scenic ingredients, but there’s probably a more unified and authentic golf course that remains primarily down in the farm section of the property.

A sense of undisturbed space and nature.

But whatever. You could make just as strong a case that Hurdzan and Fry would have been fools to not route the course as widely as they did. The point is to lure golfers to travel out to this peaceful, rural section of Alabama, and thrill them when they get here.

FarmLinks is a fun ride and engaging spectacle through a particularly large, lovely and isolated piece of nature. Frankly I’m a little amazed it doesn’t get more regional attention than it does. It’s a truly worthwhile experience (90).

[Note: Pursell Farms is dry, so if you come to visit overnight or for a few days tuck a bottle of bourbon into your bag.]

FarmLinks at Pursell Farms

Birmingham/Sylacauga

Year: 2003

Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry

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