If golf and Southern charm are selling points for your next event—and how could they not be?—Pursell Farms in Alabama will fit you to a tee.
DeWitt Alexander Parker was the first general manager of what became his family’s fertilizer company near Sylacauga, Alabama. His son Howard Parker grew the business, and Parker’s son-in-law, Jimmy Pursell, dreamed of selling the fertilizer to all of North America. The company grew exponentially when Jimmy’s son David Pursell, who describes himself as “somewhere between P.T. Barnum and Walt Disney” had an idea.
David Parker knew his family fertilizer company had developed an outstanding product that would revolutionize golf if course superintendents only knew about it. His idea was building a course and lodge on his family’s property outside Sylacauga and flying superintendents in for a weekend of golf and relaxation on his 3,200 acres.
“We weaponized Southern hospitality,” Pursell says.
By flying in no more than 15 superintendents at a time and hosting them for three days, he was able to build relationships as he treated them to a luxurious weekend of golf, southern fare and stunning vistas at the farm. From 2003 to 2006, Pursell hosted more than 10,000 superintendents. “If you can get people in an undistracted environment, they will have a good time,” he says.
His idea was overwhelmingly successful, with more than 90 percent of his guests making the switch to his product after spending a weekend at Pursell Farms. In the mid-2000s a bidding war erupted over the technology in the fertilizer, and Pursell sold it in 2006. He kept FarmLinks—the golf course—and his family property, of course, and decided to launch full-time into hospitality, investing profits from the sale back into the land.
The Green Standard
The farm has expanded with new elements added over the years. It’s now home to award-winning wedding venue Hamilton Place, the only Orvis shooting grounds in the south, the Spring House Spa, guest cabins and cottages, an upscale restaurant, a pub and an inn. Recreational activities on the farm include horseback riding, sporting clays, a two-hour UTV tour up Sulphur Mountain, fishing, hunting and swimming, among others. Plus, there’s still the original draw of golf. Golfweek has named FarmLinks the No. 1 all-access golf course in the state for the past eight years. The course continues to rank in Golf Magazine and Golf Advisor’s lists of top courses as well.
Pursell Farms hosts corporate and faith-based events, as well as weddings. In the past three years, more than 60 faith-based groups have convened events at Pursell Farms. Meeting spaces for groups include a conference room in the inn called the Old Hickory Room, Hamilton Place and The Barn, which is a building themed like a barn with a theater, atrium and multipurpose room. The cabins, cottages, Parker Lodge and pub can all be used for events too.
Today, Pursell Farms has a total of 81 guestrooms, which translates into approximately one guestroom for every 40 acres. Accommodations are spread across the cottages, Parker Lodge and The Inn, which has 40 rooms: 29 kings and 11 doubles.
While David has brought in hospitality consultants to advise him on specific aspects of the business, he’s opted to keep Pursell Farms independent, not even partnering with a management company.
“We have built our own culture here,” he says, explaining that he wants to be a good steward of the resources God has given him, using them to bless others.
One core value he has woven into the culture is teaching his team to be “famously friendly,” and he wears an armband emblazoned with the phrase.
Each of his six children have worked at the farm at some point, and his wife Ellen has handled interior design for every building on the property. Currently, his daughter Vaughn works as the artist-in-residence, creating much of the art installed in the guestrooms and facilitating painting experiences for groups. David’s son Parker is the operations purchasing director, and Vaughn’s husband Tim is the marketing director.
Another way Pursell seeks to be a good steward is by partnering with Vapor Ministries, a nonprofit that builds centers for medical care, entrepreneurship and clean water in slums in third world countries.
David Pursell met Vapor’s founder Micah McElveen in the mid-2000s and offered to house and help support McElveen’s family and ministry. Pursell has introduced McElveen to business leaders across the country who now support Vapor.
The ministry has also built soccer fields near many of its centers—another fertilizer and grass connection—and provided critical care for those living in extreme poverty. Pursell and three of his children have visited the center in Nairobi, and the organization’s headquarters are on the Pursell property.
“God deserves the glory here,” Pursell says of the farm. “This place is 95% what he’s done and about 5 percent us.”