Nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains between Birmingham and Auburn Alabama in Sylacauga, is Pursell Farms. This 3,200 acre, family owned and operated luxury resort has an unusual back-story, ties to Hollywood icons, and a secret place you will definitely want to visit.
So pack your bags for an adventurous, grown-up escape in the fresh country air, just two hours from Atlanta. Here’s 11 quick things to get you excited for your trip.
The Backstory. The Pursell family business was initially fertilizer. That is until David Pursell, the third generation to lead the business, had the brilliant idea to create a research and demonstration golf course on the farm. Now clients, who included golf superintendents from courses like Augusta National, Pebble Beach and St. Andrews, came to Alabama.
Tips to Play the Award Winning Golf Course. Although I appreciate the beauty of a golf course, I’m not a golfer, so I brought my husband to play the course and give some tips. Read his detailed notes on the golf course at Pursell Farms.
My only tip is to read the plaques that tell the history of the area where you are standing. For non-golfers like me, read on for why you still want to visit Pursell Farms even if you don’t golf.
The Best Way to Get Around. You can rent a golf cart to get around the resort, but a much better way is by bicycle. Bikes are complimentary for resort guests (and electric ones are available for a fee). With almost three miles of biking/walking trails, you’ll earn your evening cocktail.
Maps are available at the front desk, but I caution you to review it prior to heading out (I got lost). The secret path is around the lake by Hamilton Place – it’s not well marked, so you have to know it is there.
Explore the Backroads. Bikes will get you around manicured resort areas, but to see the backcountry, take the UTV tour. It’s a bumpy, dusty ride to some of the prettiest views in the state, an old fashion tire swing over a creek, and an intriguing unmarked gravesite, that piqued my curiosity.
Don’t Miss The Secret Place. Along the UTV trail you’ll stop at the Secret Place. Before the resort was established, David and Ellen Pursell would take their children on four wheelers through the property. When asked where they were going, Ellen would say – ‘to the secret place’ which overlooks Lay Lake on one side and the resort on the other. On weekend afternoons, sign up for free yoga on top of the mountain. Namaste.
The Hollywood Connection. Any self respecting Southerner, no matter the age, knows the show Andy Griffith. The lovable mechanic Gomer Pyle with the catchphrase Gaawl-lee is actually Sylacauga native Jim Nabors. He went to high school with Jimmy Pursell, introduced him to his wife Chris, and served as best man at their wedding. There is photographic proof in the Inn hallways.
When the Inn was built, Nabors donated the pool table from his Bel Air California home. It is now the star attraction in Old Tom’s Pub. Stars like Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Dolly Parton, and Lucille Ball played pool on that very table. And now they can add Sue Rodman to the Hall of Fame too.
There are only three places in the world like this. You may know Orvis as a clothier for the sporting life, but they also have three outdoor schools, and one is at Pursell Farms in little ole Sylacauga, Alabama. Try fly fishing, sporting clays, or join a hunt. They have world-class facilities, but welcome novices too. In fact, Lesli took an introduction to fly fishing course here and absolutely loved it.
Take a Table at the Farm. There are three restaurants at Pursell Farms. Each one offers a slightly different experience. Do yourself a favor and spend at least one meal at Arrington, the fine dining, but not stuffy establishment on property.
The new Executive Chef, Joe Truex, has an impressive pedigree. He worked at the original Le Cirque under Chef Daniel Boulud; operated his own restaurant, Repast, in Atlanta, cooked for Martha Stewart; and helmed Atlanta’s famed Watershed restaurant. So it goes without saying the fresh seasonal menu items are delicious.
A wonderful accompaniment to the food is the patio view. Looking out past the golf course to the meadow and mountains beyond with a distant mooing from cows, made for a perfect evening.
Take some time to read the backstory for Arrington under the large photo of Howard Arrington Parker in the waiting area of the restaurant. Parker was a World War I vet, the father of Chris Pursell and the man who moved the family fertilizer business into the lawn and garden market.
The Walls Here Talk. I’m a history geek. I love it, especially when it’s not just names and dates but real people. In the hallways of the Pursell Farm Inn are a series of photos with captions that teach you about the area, the family and several of the buildings on the property.
It also tells stories of the people who lived here, like the perfectly Southern tale of the locals who shot a newcomer for cheating at cards, but then felt bad they couldn’t find any kin, so they buried him and erected a monument of sorts to the unknown gambler.
Hidden Art Galleries All Around. It seems there is an art story everywhere at Pursell Farms. At the golf course mercantile, you’ll find pencil sketches of golfers by owner David Pursell.
Another display of bright colored pop art t-shirts seems out of place among the muted tones of sport and golf gear, but they are the creation of Tim Spanjer, marketing director at the Farm and husband of David’s daughter Vaughan, who serves as the artist in residence.
You can find Vaughan’s unbelievable paintings of herons in the foyer of every guest room. She and her husband also do occasional special art weekends at the Farm where you can learn to paint your own masterpiece.
It’s a family affair. As you can see Pursell Farms isn’t just a farm stay resort, it’s a true labor of love and a family affair. At Old Tom’s Pub, while playing shuffleboard, my favorite bar game, a cute eight-year-old boy wandered over.
I wasn’t doing so well, so I asked him if he wanted to play my side. He did and we got talking. When I asked where he was from, he said shyly but confidently, “ well… I live here.” He’s the grandson of the resort’s founder David Pursell and son of artist-in-residence Vaughan Spanjer. From our short interaction, I can tell the place is in good hands for many years to come.
Disclosure: Thank you to Pursell Farms for hosting us. Opinions here are our own, as always …we only recommend places we love to visit.