3,200-acre adult playground in Sylacauga, Alabama.
Shoot a shotgun, swing a golf club, and much more.
By Hope S. Philbrick
Pursell Farms is already impressive, and it’s about to get even better.
The owners have lots of projects underway, including construction of a new 40-room boutique inn that will double the resort’s overnight accommodations capacity as well as house a couple new dining options.
But there’s no need to wait until the new inn opens before visiting this destination: You can already golf an award-winning course, shoot a shotgun, stay in a well-appointed cabin or cottage, dine on upscale preparations of seasonal fare, and relax among adults.
Pursell Farms isn’t specifically an adults-only destination, but it isn’t marketed as family-friendly either: It’s adults-oriented—and the owners and managers are keen to keep it that way. We applaud their recognition of the fact that grownups deserve a resort to call their own.
Located about an hour-long drive from Birmingham, Ala., or two-and-a-half hours from Atlanta, Ga., Pursell Farms is a 3,200-acre haven of lush green lawns and trees, rolling hills, and sparkling ponds. It’s a peaceful place to get active, relax with friends or loved ones, or some combination of the two.
Orvis Shooting Grounds…
Sporting clays, wingshooting & lessons
I returned from my recent visit to Pursell Farms with a bruise near my shoulder and the two main men in my life were jealous of how I got it.
My black and blue mark, a souvenir from the gun’s kickback, didn’t even hurt; it betrayed my inexperience with guns and underscored why I benefitted from a lesson.
When I arrived at Orvis on Pursell Farms at the appointed hour, wingshooting instructor Chuck Baker explained that he’d chosen a 28-gauge shotgun for me to use since it has less kickback than other shotguns. Still, it was heavy, long and required some getting used to. Before we left for the sporting clays course he verified that the gun was empty and emphasized that safety is always the No. 1 priority.
He drove us to our first stop on the shooting course. Located in the Appalachian foothills at the base of Chalybeate Mountain, Pursell Farms’ Orvis course offers 12 stations designed to accurately simulate different hunting scenarios. Each station is named for the animal its clays’ arcs mimic including quail, peasant, woodcock, grouse, chukar, pigeon, partridge, duck, dove and rabbit.
“The course was designed with the avid wingshooter in mind,” said Baker, pointing out that the course offers a combination of open fields and tree-covered areas. “The goal is to be as realistic as we can” so these clay targets replicate birds’ flight patterns as close as possible with clay targets—more accurately than what might be found on a shooting course meant to challenge competitive shooters.
“We’ll start at a station where I think you’ll have the best chance to hit a clay target,” Baker said. After showing me how that target would arc through the air, he loaded a shell, offered some basic instructions, and told me to shoot.
I hit the first three targets.
We then drove to a different station where my odds of success dropped dramatically. But Baker’s upbeat attitude, encouragement and enthusiasm kept me focused and motivated.
At each stop and with each shot he was patient and helpful. He had a genuine knack for figuring out what I needed to do to differently in order to increase my success rate.
We drove to another station. “Is it easier?” I asked.
“It’s more forgiving,” he said.
Orvis’ shotgun shooting schools were the first of their kind offered in the United States, and for more than 40 years the company has built a reputation as an industry leader. Orvis instructors work with all skill levels, from novice to seasoned champ.
“We teach instinct shooting,” Baker said, at one point blocking my view of the flying target with his hat then abruptly pulling the hat away and yelling, “Shoot!”
I hit that target. “With a shotgun you don’t aim, you point,” he said. That was an “Aha!” moment for me.
We headed to a stand that offers five different shooting options.
My odds of bursting clay targets into little pieces—my personal measure of success—varied, but Baker was enthusiastic even about several I’d missed. Apparently, I was improving in ways I hadn’t considered. The Orvis system fundamentals include stance, footwork, gun handling, swing, visual concentration, proper gun mount, and correct fit of the gun stock.
“You’re a real Annie Oakley!” Baker proclaimed after I managed to bust a few clays in succession. That’s an exaggeration, but I did hit the first three targets, the last three, and a bunch in between. Overall, I was pleased with my results. Most importantly, I had genuine fun.
18-hole, 7,444-yard championship course
Pursell Farms has a top-notch shooting clays course, but it’s even better known as a golf destination. Its FarmLinks course has been named Golfweek’s No. 1 all-access golf course in Alabama five times. Challenging yet “highly playable,” the lush green course by Hurdzan-Fry Environmental Golf Design features dramatic elevation changes, pristine fairways and immaculate greens. It’s stunning.
“The greens are smooth and fast,” said Fraser.
I asked for clarification. “On a lot of courses there’s not grass that’s perfect every square inch,” he said. This grass is thick and lush: The course was originally built to show off fertilizer, after all. “Here, the ball will go where you hit it,” he said. “There are no bumps in the grass to send it in a different direction.” The course is also surrounded by nature, so there’s no worry about accidently hitting a house with a golf ball.
“This course is very playable,” Fraser said. “The greens are huge and smooth, there are wide fairways, the grounds are immaculate—all the sand traps are raked daily.”
Every tee has five different tee boxes. Beginners may opt for the quail tee, those looking for a bigger challenge can head for the longhorn tee (in between, are bobcat, white tail deer, and copperhead).
Fraser says that hole No. 4 is the most challenging, a 445-yard par 4. The most ‘forgiving’ is No. 13, a 323-yard par 4. No. 5 is arguably the most picturesque. In all, the course is 7,444-yards.
I’ve never played a round of golf. But riding around on a golf cart for a first-hand look at this course got me thinking it might be time to give it a try.
Lessons are available…so, maybe on my next visit.
Stay & Dine at Pursell Farms…
Until the new inn opens this fall, overnight accommodations at Pursell Farms include cottages and cabins, which are modern, well-appointed (not “rustic”) and tastefully decorated (three members of the Pursell family are artists and some of their work is on display). Cottages offer a full kitchen and a fireplace; cabins have a kitchenette. Beyond those subtleties, they’re similar: Each cabin and cottage has four bedrooms (all have two queen beds) with private baths; all four bed/bath suites open to a shared living space. These quads work especially well for groups of friends traveling together as well as corporate retreats, weddings, club getaways and other group retreats. Some larger homes with two to eight bedrooms are also available; the homes must be rented in their entirety, however, so if you’re traveling solo or as a couple a cottage or cabin suite is your best option until the inn opens (unless you really want to splurge on space). The cabins and cottages are clustered together on the resort property and back up to a putting green. When you book a cottage or cabin room, you’ll get a golf cart to use on property throughout your stay.
There’s currently one restaurant on property at Pursell Farms and it’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Eat three meals a day at the same restaurant? You won’t mind a bit! The Grille takes a ‘farm to fork’ approach, sourcing seasonal fresh fare from nearby—often from the on-property vegetable garden and neighboring farms—to the extent possible, expanding regionally to Alabama and Georgia when necessary. Chef Andrea Griffith’s menu showcases Southern cuisine, and she offers several popular classics like cornbread, biscuits, pimento cheese, quail, trout and more. Since the season determines ingredients, the menu changes daily. Breakfast may offer a basic like eggs and sausage, a Southern favorite like biscuits and gravy, and a lighter option like granola and yogurt. The lunch menu may offer a burger, a classic club sandwich, and a chicken salad. For dinner you might opt for a steak or Griffith’s spin on shrimp & grits. Griffith, who trained at The Art Institute of Philadelphia for Culinary Arts, worked as an apprentice at The Greenbrier, where she earned 11 American Culinary Federation awards. Her résumé also includes stints at The Greenbrier Sporting Club and Primland. As executive chef at Pursell Farms her creative recipes and artful presentations seem a perfect fit for the picturesque surroundings.
Whether you’re a wine novice or connoisseur, trust sommelier José Montalvo’s recommendations for a perfect pairing.
A new 40-room boutique inn is being built with an opening planned for Fall 2017.
Several additional amenities are planned including bikes, walking trails, horseshoes, bocce, art classes, low ropes course, horses, garden tours and education, cooking classes, hay rides, history talks and more. According to Fraser, “They are at various stages of implementation, but we hope to have these all available in the first part of next year.”
Odds of Encountering Children: Very low. Wingshooting school participants must be at least 12 years old. During my recent weekday visit I saw no children at Pursell Farms. According to Mark Fraser, Pursell Farms aims to be an adults-oriented destination. Huzzah!
2200 FarmLinks Blvd.
Sylacauga, AL 35151
386 Talladega Springs Rd.
Sylacauga, AL 35151
- Orvis sporting clay shooting fees for non-member start at $70 for 100 rounds and do not include ammunition. Five stand shooting for non-members is $15. Shooting school fees start at $175 per hour for private instruction or $575 for one day. Half-day quail hunts ar $336. Fly fishing options including lessons are also available.
- FarmLinks is a public course; golf packages are available. Call the pro shop at 256.208.7640 for additional details.
- A variety of different massage treatments is available at The Spring House, the spa at Pursell Farms. Ahhh, yes. There’s a spa! Read more about it.
– Property photos courtesy Pursell Farms; food photos © HSP Media LLC
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