There are hidden gems, and there are really hidden gems. FarmLinks Golf Club at Pursell Farms falls into the latter category.
Although only 45 miles south of Birmingham, Ala., FarmLinks — located in Sylacauga — is almost as far off the beaten track as, well, Pluto. However, if you appreciate an outstanding golf course, incredible scenery and a world-class experience in a serene environment, add FarmLinks to your bucket list.
FarmLinks isn’t exactly unknown, despite its rural location. The spectacular, 7,444-yard layout — designed by Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry — sprawls over a 3,500-acre property and has earned numerous “best course” awards since its 2003 opening as the world’s first and only research-and-demonstration course. Say what, you ask? Well, the course hosts turf-education programs — The Experience at FarmLinks — for 1,000 course superintendents annually.
Because FarmLinks is literally a “living laboratory,” course conditions are immaculate, and each tee, fairway, green and rough uniquely features a different turfgrass variety.
While you probably won’t notice the first hole’s rear Longhorn tee box features A1/A4 Bentgrass blend and the fourth fairway is planted with Tifway 419, you will recognize there isn’t a mediocre hole, and the par 3s will linger forever in your memory, so bring your camera.
The 210-yard fifth, with its 170-foot vertical tee-to-green plummet, is FarmLinks’ signature hole. The vertiginous ride up to the championship tee seems to take 15 minutes, but the panoramic view is worth the commute. Hitting the course’s largest green in regulation by no means guarantees par thanks to undulations and a sharp back-to-front slope.
The 254-yard downhill eighth, with its deep, narrow putting surface, is another beastly one-shotter. The 228-yard 15th plays longer than it looks, and the downhill, 196-yard 17th presents a knee-knocking challenge — not to mention beautiful vista — to find a green that juts out from the opposite side of a lake that laps against the putting surface’s left and right sides, and front.
The toughest hole for my money is the 478-yard, par-4 fourth, where the approach must carry a waste area between the fairway and green complex, so unless you crush a drive you’re forced to lay up and hope for an up-and-down par.
Hurdzan and Fry saved the longest hole, 616 yards, for last. Making ain’t easy if you don’t split two fairway oaks with your tee shot. Good luck.
Perhaps it is poetic justice the longest hole immediately precedes your long return journey to civilization. But, like most who visit FarmLinks at Pursell Farms, you probably won’t be rushing to leave.
FarmLinks Golf Club, Sylacauga, AL
Rates (through December 31, 2012): $75 (includes 18 holes, cart and unlimited practice-facility usage); $35 replay; $135 (includes all-you-can-play golf, lunch, cart, snacks and unlimited practice-facility usage).