Riding into a new chapter
GCI’s Guy Cipriano visited rural Alabama to witness the evolution of FarmLinks Golf Club and its partnership with John Deere.
His original reasoning was the coating of his family’s control-released fertilizer matched the primary color of the equipment company David Pursell wanted to bring to rural Alabama.
So before building a research and demonstration golf course on his vast property, David Pursell contacted the company. The call didn’t yield an immediate arrangement between Pursell Technologies Inc., creators of the green-coated Polyon fertilizer, and John Deere.
But 15 years after making the call, Pursell admits that John Deere was the first company he approached about a partnership at FarmLinks Golf Club, a course that brings superintendents to Sylacauga, Ala., to try products and forge relationships. “It was all kind of coming together in my head of what we wanted to do,” says Pursell, FarmLinks’ co-founder and CEO. “John Deere was very, very nice and all, but they decided they were going to go a different direction.”
Pursell pursued – and inked – numerous industry partners, and thousands of superintendents have participated in the “FarmLinks experience” on Pursell’s 3,500-acre piece of land. Late last month on the wooded 16th hole, eight superintendents, a sports turf manager, and multiple dealers and regional sales managers, split into four groups and operated mowers, tractors and utility vehicles. Nearly 20 vehicles were used to maintain the hole.
The color of the equipment? Green and yellow.
In the middle of the fairway, FarmLinks director of agronomy Mark Langner interacted with the superintendents, who hailed from Virginia and Kansas. Ren Wilkes, John Deere Golf’s new marketing manager, paced the 250 yards from the green to the start of the fairway, answering questions and overseeing demonstrations.
John Deere, which quietly started bringing superintendents to Alabama last year, is beginning to fully understand the benefits of its partnership with FarmLinks. “It provides us a chance to get the customers and dealers away from their facilities and to really look at equipment, look at the technology and to ask questions of the Deere people they might not get to ask questions to on a regular basis,” Wilkes says. “And it provides us as a company a great venue to bring someone to.”
Besides some of the corporate partnerships, many things have changed since FarmLinks, a 7,400-yard course designed by Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry, opened on June 4, 2003. And more changes could be on the way.
The surfaces superintendents maintained and relaxed on included almost every imaginable turfgrass variety capable of growing in Alabama. One of the trickiest questions Langner must answer involves the number of turfgrass varieties on the course. The total was 16 by Langner’s most recent count. The turfgrasses range from uniform coverage (T-1 bentgrass on the greens) to curiosities (Discovery Bermudagrass on the 15th tee). “We keep playing with different grasses and changing them out and seeing what might be the perfect grass,” Langner says.
The people visiting FarmLinks are also changing. Pursell sold the family fertilizer company to Agrium Advance Technologies in 2006. Koch Agronomic Services purchased Agrium in 2014. FarmLinks represents Pursell’s major golf-related emphasis and he says the facility is “trying to operate more like a classic resort.” Adding amenities that appeal to leisure golfers is part of the growth strategy, although Pursell doesn’t want to stray too far from FarmLinks’ research and demonstration roots.
“One phase of what we are trying to do here is to continue on with what we originally did with the end-users,” Pursell says. “But we don’t have a dog in the hunt as we say in the South here. When we sold the fertilizer business, we didn’t have anything to sell to superintendents. We have changed some partners and kept some. It’s fun.”
Take care of yourself
It's easy to think of skin cancer as a problem for older golf course superintendents, but it's a danger for anyone working in the sun. Andy Jorgensen was in his 20s when he visited his dermatologist for the first time. Five biopsies later, his whole life had changed.
Jorgensen told his story as part of our Superintendent Health series for SRN. Hear how he works to protect himself and his crew now with small changes. Then check out our interview with Mike Fabrizio about dealing with his work-stress balance, and Tom Werner's fight with alcohol for his family, his job and himself.
Listen to all three stories live on the web at http://bit.ly/1GiRtA3, or check back through our iTunes feed.
From the Feed
We provided a guide for adding ornamental color in our May issue (bit.ly/1JFC8Hj). The story sparked some colorful social media dialogue.
Jason Haines @PenderSuper
Kasey Kauff @KaseyKauff
@GCImagazine that’s the exact opposite of our philosophy at trinity forest
GOLF COURSE INDUSTRY @GCImagazine
@KaseyKauff Bill & Ben are flower haters? #shocking
Kasey Kauff @KaseyKauff
@GCImagazine there are wildflowers in our native mix
Dan Burkett @Burkett12D
@GCImagazine @KaseyKauff “wild” being the emphasis in wildflowers. #tradition
Sam Reznicek @SRez_Turf
@KaseyKauff @GCImagazine native wildflowers are the only way to go. Seed it and forget about
Travis Blamires @travis_blamires
@KaseyKauff @GCImagazine I’m so glad I don’t have to plant flowers anymore.
Join the conversation on Twitter @GCIMagazine!