Golf Course Acts as Classroom for Turf Research

The 100-year-old family business has transitioned to become the first research and demonstration golf course in the world.

Anyone in the business world understands the importance of relationship building, but the Pursell family in Sylacauga, Ala. may have a leg up on everyone — at least in the golf industry for sure. A nearly 100-year-old family business has transitioned over the decades to now boast the first research and demonstration golf course in the world, one in which Michigan State University turf grass students have been involved.

What makes FarmLinks Golf Club at Pursell Farms even more special, however, is the offering of truly world-class modern amenities and services, yet which are experienced by visitors in an old-fashioned, down-home southern hospitality and personal charm atmosphere.

And that’s the point.

When leaders of the family’s fertilizer business decided to focus new product sales on golf courses and ornamental nurseries, the goal was to show potential customers how and why their new fertilizers and fertilizer-making processes were superior to what had been on the “Connoisseurs of Manure” market for decades. But the shift would be a tough, slow and very expensive undertaking for a small company to build up marketing materials and unleash a large team of sales reps on the road.

So David Pursell said, “Let’s bring the customer to us where we have the time and the resources to show them why it works best.”

With many stages in the process covering several years, the end result was building an 18-hole golf course at Pursell Farms, outside Birmingham, Ala. to allow for uninterrupted, face-to-face time at a year-round facility to show potential customers what they had, and also acquire important feedback from visitors. Since 2001, more than 10,000 golf course superintendents and others in the turf industry have been flown to Sylacauga, housed in first-class lodging, and fed farm-fresh food while taking part in “The Experience.” The unique marketing tactic has allowed the Pursell family and associates to build unbreakable new bonds.

The golf course has more than 30 types of grass that allow for research and experimentation by turf grass educators and course superintendents that they couldn’t risk tinkering with at their private club or for-profit public courses back home. The research facility also partnered with the likes of Toro and Club Car and others in the golf industry so they could additionally demonstrate prototype products on a real working golf course that had players on fairways and greens on a daily basis.

The “ah-ha” moment that launched this unique brand of David Pursell’s “Bull Marketing,” namely in part because their logo incorporates a longhorn bull indigenous to the farm, came in the 1980s. A Mid-western fertilizer company made a phone call to Pursell after hearing about a new process the Alabama company created for manufacturing sulfur-coated urea.

The visitors toured the facility, shook hands with workers, and were treated to the Pursell’s hospitality, home-cooked meals and an over-night stay in the guest house next door to their Civil-War-era refurbished plantation style home.

The resulting huge sales order and success of that first visit led to the idea of replicating it over and over by building FarmLinks Golf Club at Pursell Farms. While built for golf turf research and demonstration, golfers are not Guinea Pigs at this layout. Rather, they will enjoy an excellent experience at the course voted the No. 1 public course in Alabama by GolfWeek (for which I am one of its course raters). Although almost every hole is tree-lined the fairways are wide and open to all skill levels. The property has huge elevation drops like almost no other in the southern state, and is one course you’ll not tire of playing.

All the same hospitality and smart business decisions are on display — and more importantly in action — for anyone who takes a personal or business retreat to Sylacauga, the boyhood home of   actor and singer Jim Nabors of Gomer Pyle fame, to enjoy excellent golf, hunting, fishing, hiking, or a host of scenic views from the foothills of the southern Appalachian Mountains.