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Looking out at the rolling land that had been a part of his family for decades, David Pursell saw the opportunity for something special — an 18-hole research and demonstration golf course that would change the way people viewed an entire industry.

The Pursell family bought their first parcels of land in the pristine countryside in Sylacauga, Ala., during the 1970s. Over the years, they purchased more land to create a 3,500-acre property called Pursell Farms. For much of the land's history, it had been used for farming cotton from the early 1800s until about 1950 when pasturing cattle became its primary use.


The history of the land not only explains how the land was used in the past, but how it came to be used today. For Pursell, respecting the land's history and maintaining its beauty were the underlying factors that shaped his vision more than 20 years ago.

“Our main consideration was environmental harmony,” Pursell says. “We had the ability to enhance the property, and I wanted to prove that running a golf course on the land actually improves it environmentally.”

To accomplish this, Pursell wanted to design a golf course like no other. He wanted the golf course to offer more than just a great game in a beautiful setting; he wanted it to set an example. So Pursell opted to design the world's first research and demonstration golf course, created to show turf and golf industry innovation and product performance through the course's ability to serve as a living laboratory and ongoing focus group for industry leaders.

FarmLinks Golf Club is the product of Pursell's vision. The 18-hole, championship Hurdzan-Fry Golf Course Design, which opened in June 2003, was built by Landscapes Unlimited Inc. of Lincoln, Neb. It makes up about 800 acres and was designed to incorporate the various natural elements, such as lakes and ponds, streams, rolling hills and mountains, wetlands and wildlife, found in the 3,500-acre property. The golf course measures 7,444 yards from its back tees, and multiple tees are offered to accommodate golfers of any level.

FarmLinks is owned by the Pursell family in conjunction with their family business, Pursell Technologies Inc. (PTI), which as a developer and manufacturer of controlled-release fertilizers has a vested interest in both the golf and turf industries.

Unlike the theory behind the Field of Dreams that “If you build it, they will come,” Pursell knew he would need to do more than just build the golf course for industry leaders to take notice of the research and demonstrations being conducted there. His solution was to enroll premier turf industry companies into the FarmLinks venture. This way, people could see real products such as fertilizers, grasses and compact equipment being used in a real-world setting.


For two years now, FarmLinks has strived to set an example in the golf and turf industries by experimenting with processes in hopes of discovering improvements others can benefit from. A major component in making Pursell's vision a success is not only the ground superintendents he hires, but also the equipment and products they use.

Mark Langner, director of agronomy and applied research for FarmLinks, arrived at the golf course two months before it opened. A large part of Langner's job consists of keeping up with the constantly changing golf course. For example, just one year after FarmLinks opened, Langner and his team completely switched the grasses on the course.

“One of the things that we wanted to do was put in different grass types that would give people the opportunity to see the grasses grow in the golf course environment and the different management techniques, including fertilizing and mowing,” he says.

For the June 2004 sod project, Langner's team changed three fairways from Tiftsport bermudagrass to 419 bermudagrass. Some other areas of the golf course that were primarily Tiftsport bermudagrass were replaced with Zorro Zoysia and Seashore Paspalum. And in rough and shaded areas, they placed Thermal Blue bluegrass.

“The Tiftsport was kind of a new generation of bermudagrass. We wanted to put down the old standby 419 Bermuda so that we can see if there was any difference between the two when we do our fertility tests,” Langner says.

On fairway No. 4, Langner and his team helped the sod company by unloading four truckloads of sod and hauling them to the course using an all-wheel steer loader. Currently, FarmLinks uses all-wheel steer loaders with several attachments to perform many groundskeeping duties on the golf course.

Oftentimes, golf courses use a front-end loader or another piece of large equipment to unload sod, but Langner says he has found that compact equipment works better because it is easier to maneuver. Skid-steer loaders can also be used for the job, but usually plywood must be placed on the course to prevent turf disturbance — a procedure that takes added time. FarmLinks groundskeepers use equipment that enables operators to have two machines in one because with the flip of a switch inside the cab they can go from skid-steer to all-wheel steer mode.

It took FarmLinks workers two hours to unload the four truckloads and transport the sod to the fairway. Typically, each truckload holds between 25,000 and 30,000 pounds of sod. A pallet of sod can range from 1,200 to 1,800 pounds, which is why the 3,000-pound rated operating capacity of a machine is critical when lifting heavy loads of sod, fertilizer, and other materials, Langner says.

“In this industry, we deal with a lot of materials that come in ton increments and you have to have a loader that can handle at least a ton,” he says.

For Langner, having good equipment to maintain the golf course means everything. And as part of their mission to be a research and demonstration ground, Langner says others in the golf and turf industry can learn from their example how valuable compact equipment can be.

“A lot of times it's not really Mother Nature and outside elements that kills turf grass, it's the superintendents that do. So we need to have equipment that can make our jobs better and easier,” he says. “If you can cut out having three or four pieces of equipment that basically do the same thing, then you can save your golf club capital.”

Thus far, FarmLinks has seen nothing but success. What started as just a dream for Pursell has turned into a major endeavor that has captured the attention of many leaders in the golf and turf industries. Not only did Pursell find the resources needed to get FarmLinks built, but he has also found the equipment needed to maintain his dream and teach others along the way.

Tara Deering is a technical writer for Two Rivers Marketing (Des Moines, Iowa).

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