A Simpler Game

Article Rating: starstarstarstarstar

Living Laboratory

Posted: 2/5/2013



LOCATED AT THE FOOTHILLS of the Appalachian Mountains in Sylacauga, Alabama, FarmLinks Golf Club has everything you’d expect from a top golf resort: a well-designed, immaculately maintained course; a first-rate golf academy; luxurious accommodations and good food; as well as other great amenities like hunting, shooting, and fishing.

    But there’s much more below the surface—literally. Farm- Links is the world’s first and only demonstration golf course. Since it opened in 2003, about 1,000 industry professionals and superintendents from all over the world have taken part each year in the all-expenses-paid “FarmLinks Experience,” a three-day symposium on eco-friendly practices, moneysaving techniques, and cutting-edge technology.

    “With our partners, we try to point out how their products offer solutions to various problems,” says Mark Langner, the director of agronomy and applied research. “It could be a problem with a disease or having to reduce a budget and still maintain the property at a certain level. Everything we do fits into this paradigm of the aesthetics of the course, the playability of the course, and the financial impact.”

    In other words, everything our “Simpler Game” platform adheres to. In addition to seminars with partners Agrium, BASF, Toro, and others, Langner takes superintendents on an on-course tour where different chemicals and grasses—some experimental—are on display. With his thick Southern accent, Langner gets a gleam in his eye when he talks about “playing around” with a new bluegrass, planting bunker faces with a new drought-resistant bermudagrass, called Discovery, that dramatically reduces mowing because it grows laterally instead of vertically, or

conducting a trial on a new heat-tolerant strain of bentgrass, AU Victory, developed with Auburn University.

     “We’ve had a long hot season and the AU Victory is performing very, very well,” he says. “It looks really good.”

     Resort guests can take part in a self-guided agronomic tour as they play their rounds. The yardage book not only provides colorful hole depictions, playing tips, and distances, it also details the different grasses on each hole. Some fairways, for instance, feature a Tifway or Tifsport bermudagrass; others are covered in zoysiagrass. While the layman might not notice much disparity, superintendents can easily differentiate between them because of differences in maintenance requirements, texture, density, and temperature and traffic tolerance. As further education, golfers are given a little foldout guide that directs them to 30 numbered signs on the course’s R&D trail showing the various projects Langner and his staff are working on. “We’ll even highlight blemishes on the golf course, areas where we had a hydraulic leak, fertilizer burn, or high traffic,” says Langner. “We installed a couple of ‘Better Billy Bunkers’ [named after former Augusta National superintendent, Billy Fuller, who invented an improved drainage design] and explain how they perform. We also have a couple of different nematode [microscopic worm] studies going that give golfers an idea of what it takes to take care of a golf course. They really don’t understand. They’re blown away by the conditions they see on TV, but don’t realize what goes on behind the scenes.”

     FarmLinks was the brainchild of David Pursell, who saw it as a novel way to sell his family’s patented, controlled-release fertilizer, Polyon. Instead of relying on salesmen with big expense accounts and salaries to sell the product (known commercially as Sta-Green), he figured why not bring


potential customers to them? Pursell knew that to properly educate the industry he needed to demonstrate how effective his product was. What better way than with a first-class golf course?

But first he had to convince his dad, Jimmy, who didn’t want to spoil his beloved 3,500-acre cattle farm, 45 minutes southeast of Birmingham, with its rolling hills dotted with oaks, pines, and streams.

“You want to build what?” he barked. “You just want to play golf!”

“It was the biggest sales job I had to do,” says David, whose primary corporate duty was running the in-house ad agency. “When my father finally bought into it, he saw that it was a strategy to grow the company. It’s nice to look back and see it worked. I could have been the laughingstock of the family.”

Needless to say, if you’re going to build a golf course in the middle of nowhere and expect people to want to visit, it had better be a pretty strong track. Architects Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry were told to select the best land for the holes. Their only restriction: David’s mother didn’t want to see it from the family home. With wide, inviting fairways, large, undulating, bentgrass greens, and long-range views, the 7,444-yard layout entices people to travel from all over to play. The most memorable hole, no doubt, is the 210-yard 5th, which drops 170 feet from tee to green.


The Pursells sold the company to Canadian fertilizer giant Agrium in 2006 for $100 million, so David and his team now focus on improving the resort, adding four-bedroom cabins around a private putting green (great for cocktail competitions), a five-stand sporting-clay range, and a dedicated garden for farm-to-table dining. Also available are hunting and fishing adventures, cooking classes, and spa treatments, as well as top instruction from former Auburn player Layne Savoie, who has a TrackMan launch monitor for advanced swing analysis.

But FarmLinks is still dedicated to advancing the science of golf agronomy so superintendents can create the best conditioned yet economically and ecologically viable courses possible. Says Langner: “What I like is that we’re able to look outside the box and try some different things, have successes, but if we have some failures, that’s okay, too, because we’re trying to learn.”

Rate this article:
Partner Links
AmEx image
AmEx image
AmEx image
AmEx image

The USGA and Chevron have committed to using the game of golf to encourage students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines. This commitment has led to the creation of extensive golf-focused STEM teaching tools, and has resulted in charitable contributions to support golf-related programs through Eagles for Education™

At U.S. Open Championships the Chevron STEM ZONE™ is an interactive experience highlighting the science and math behind the game of golf through a variety of hands-on exhibits and experiments.

The partnership has also produced educational materials such as the Science of Golf video series and a nationally-distributed newspaper insert which are provided to teachers as tools to enhance existing curriculum in schools. These lessons teach the science behind the USGA’s equipment testing, handicapping, and agronomy efforts.

For more interactive experiences featuring golf-focused STEM lessons, visit the partnership homepage.

Chevron image

Rolex has been a longtime supporter of the USGA and salutes the sportsmanship and great traditions unique to the game. This support includes the Rules of Golf where Rolex has partnered with the USGA to ensure golfers understand and appreciate the game.

As the official timekeeper of the USGA and its championships, they also provide clocks throughout host sites for spectator convenience.

For more information on Rolex and their celebration of the game, visit the Rolex and Golf homepage.

Rolex image

IBM has partnered with the USGA to bring the same technology, expertise, and innovation it provides to businesses all over the world to the USGA and golf's national championship.

IBM provides the information technology to develop and host the U.S. Open’s official website, www.usopen.com, as well as the mobile apps and scoring systems for the three U.S. Open championships. These real-time technology solutions provide an enhanced experience for fans following the championship onsite and online.

For more information on IBM and the technology that powers the U.S. Open and businesses worldwide, visit http://www.usopen.com/IBM

AmEx image

Lexus is committed to partnering with the USGA to deliver a best-in-class experience for the world’s best golfers by providing a fleet of courtesy luxury vehicles for all USGA Championships.

At each U.S. Open, Women’s Open and Senior Open, Lexus provides spectators with access to unique experiences ranging from the opportunity to have a picture taken with both the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open trophies to autograph signings with legendary Lexus Golf Ambassadors in the Lexus Performance Drive Pavilion.

For more information on Lexus, visit http://www.lexus.com/

AmEx image
American Express

Together, American Express and the USGA have been providing world-class service to golf fans since 2006. By creating interactive U.S. Open experiences both onsite and online, American Express enhances the USGA’s effort to make the game more accessible and enjoyable for fans.

For more information on American Express visit www.americanexpress.com/entertainment

AmEx image