In early morning, mist off the lakes at Grand National gives golfers a memorable look at Alabama's scenery.
We started early on Wednesday, teeing off at 7:00 a.m. on the Lakes Course of the RTJ complex at Grand National in Auburn-Opelika. Many consider this course to be among the most scenic in the entire RTJ system. By starting early, we saw lots of holes draped in fog and mist rising from its large lakes. Llke so many RTJ layouts, the greens on this course are large, sculpted and fast. If you are above the hole on these greens, lagging a putt anywhere close to the hole is a challenge.
There are two regulation size courses here, the Links and the Lakes Course, and a short course (18-hole par three). This site is dominated by nearby 600-acre Lake Saugahatchee. Of the 54 holes at Grand National, well over half have water on them from this lake system. Twelve holes on the course we played were on the lake, including the par-three 15th, which is considered a signature hole for the entire RTJ Trail. After grabbing lunch and a quick video interview with director of golf, Scott Gomberg, we headed for FarmLinks, about an hour away.
This is one of the great golf stories in Alabama. FarmLinks at Pursell Farms was envisioned by David Pursell, an accomplished artist and golfer who grew up in the family's fertilizer business. Pursell dreamed of building a demonstration golf course in tiny Sylacauga, Alabama and inviting golf course superintendants to fly in from across the country for training in turf management. His vision became reality in 2003 with FarmLinks was completed, designed and built by Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry. Pursell sold the family fertilizer business in 2006, but continues to oversee FarmLinks, which hosts corporate partners like Toro and ClubCar. Hundreds of golf course superintendants have already been to FarmLinks, where they study turf management, play golf and enjoy the first-class amenities afforded at this golf resort, which was recently named #39 of Golf Digest's 75 Best Golf Resorts in North America.
The course itself was a contrast to the tight, tree-lined RTJ courses we had played the first two days. FarmLinks is a great golf course with wide, sweeping fairways that allowed for a few errant drives without as much penalty. The greens were impeccable, but less undulating and much easier to lag long putts on once you had the speed down. The vistas on this golf course are farm vistas--broad expanses of wildflowers and fields with trees in shadows on the horizon. The par-three 5th hole is a signature hole that drops maybe a couple of hundred feet depending on which tees you play. The 18th, by contrast, is a long par-five that is carved from former cropland and seems to stretch forever back towards the clubhouse. Pursell told us he loved the 18th because "we used 150 acres of farmland to create that hole."
Pursell joined us for dinner that evening at Parker Lodge, a rustic inn overlooking the 17th green and lake, that has eight guestrooms, a warm great room, complete kitchen facilities, and other amenities. He spent an hour or so with us over steaks and detailed his vision for this family enterprise. FarmLinks is about an hour from Birmingham and should be included in any golf trip to that part of Alabama. Reservations are recommended and for $135 you can play all day with all beverages, range balls and lunch provided. Alcohol is not permitted on the course or sold on the facility.
Water down the left side guards the entire second hole on the Lakes Course at Grand National in Opelika.
The par three 5th hole is a signature at FarmLinks.
I shot this archway from Parkers Lodge overlooking the 17th hole after our overnight stay.
Owner David Pursell used "150 acres of farmland" to build the 18th hole at FarmLinks.
Golfers receive unlimited golf, range balls, lunch, and beverages on the course for one fee at FarmLinks.