Sylacauga may be famous for Jim Nabors, white marble and a meteorite-strike survivor, but a family farm is edging its way into the conversation — Pursell Farms.
To hear David Pursell comb through history and detail the birth of the world’s first and only research and demonstration golf course is a wonder in and of itself.
The family business began in 1904 when Pursell’s great-grandfather started Sylacauga Fertilizer Co. About 50 years later, the business grew into commercial lawn and garden, but everything changed in 1992 when the company created a product to set it apart from competitors.
“We developed a product called Polyon (which allowed fertilizer to be released over time),” Pursell said. “We developed it, and owned the patent. It wasn’t just a product; it was a technology. It was like rocket fuel compared to kerosene.”
Pursell said there were two choices: sell the product internationally, which meant investing millions of dollars to hire salespeople to market Polyon, or “build the Epcot of golf.”
“The idea of building the Epcot of golf was to take the farm, which was used as a cattle farm at the time, and make it a destination resort for our customers,” he said. “This is the only research and demonstration golf course ever built. It was a way to educate superintendents for best management and maintenance practice for golf courses.”
Their plans worked.
Pursell Farms recently was rated by Golfweek as the No. 1 public golf course in Alabama.
With that, the company moved from downtown Sylacauga to the 3,500-acre family farm a few minutes outside of town and opened FarmLinks in 2003.
The golf course showcased Pursell Technologies Incorporated (PTI) products and its competitor’s products on 25 to 30 types of grass to 1,000 superintendents a year. In 2006, PTI was sold to Canadian company Agrium, and Pursell Farms transitioned to hospitality management.
Mark Langner, director of agronomy at Pursell Farms, started in 2003 and saw the evolution of the property.
“In 2014, we engaged in a new program where we allowed a company to create its own program,” Langner said. “For example, John Deere will bring out about 150 golf superintendents, and our agronomists will go out with the equipment and showcase it. We’re great at southern hospitality and peer-to-peer reviews on how we’re utilizing equipment and how it works.”
Even though the farm is evolving and changing, Pursell said the core of its mission is still the same.
“Three generations before me have all had a stake in agriculture, and we think that’s the real difference maker,” he said. “The goal is to get people away from their technology.
“If people can see what God has created, they should know that creation should speak for Him. The more people we can get outside, we want the ‘Wow’ factor to be a reflection on God, not us.”