2 weeks ago

Pursell Farms: This family-owned business showcases the best of ‘Alabama The Beautiful’

David Pursell’s family business has undergone significant transformation over the years.

It began as a fertilizer company started by his great-grandfather in the early 20th-century and now stands as the premier golf and vacation destination in the state of Alabama.

One thing has remained constant for the Pursell family, and that is the land they call home. It has been their family farm, a headquarters for the fertilizer business and now it is the property onto which the Pursells welcome visitors from all over the United States and the world.

Pursell, who currently serves as CEO of Pursell Farms, lives on the property with his wife, Ellen. From their house, they are able to stay involved in every detail of the business and also enjoy the natural beauty of the farm by simply looking out of any window.

That view is one of which Pursell never tires.

“It’s an amazing view and I realize that I am super blessed to be able to live out here but also to live in Alabama and live in this country,” he said. “We take it for granted, but it’s an amazing privilege to live here. I try to remember that every day.”

A world-renowned destination

For him, “here” means the 3,200 acres on which Pursell Farms sits in Sylacauga, Alabama. This includes FarmLinks golf course, an 81-room inn, three restaurants and a wedding venue which holds up to 350 people.

In its 16th year, FarmLinks was voted once again the number one golf course in Alabama by Golf Week. And the wedding venue has a fairy tale quality about it. Visitors are struck by the seeming perfection of the scenery and grounds, with nary a blade of grass out of place.

One of the newest additions to the property is the Orvis shooting grounds.

Pursell Farms’ collaboration with the acclaimed outfitter and sporting company is a testament to the family’s reputation nationally among those in the sports and hospitality industries.

When Orvis wanted to add a shooting facility in the southeast – their biggest market – there was one place they had in mind.

“They called us,” recollected Pursell.

So, he went up to New York to meet the Perkins family, who owns Orvis, and to tour one of their facilities. Then the Perkins came down to Alabama.

“We drew up the contract on the back of a napkin,” Pursell said. “It wasn’t hours or days or weeks or months dealing with lawyers. It was just two family-owned companies saying, ‘This is what we are going to do, and this is how we are going to do it.’”

A true family business

The kind of agility that comes with being a family-run business traces its origins back more than 115 years.

Pursell’s great-grandfather, DeWitt Alexander Parker, founded Sylacauga Fertilizer Company in 1904. When he died in 1930, Pursell’s grandfather, Howard Arrington Parker, took over and ran it until the early 1960s.

As a result of some matchmaking by the great Alabama actor and entertainer, Jim Nabors, David Pursell’s father, Jimmy Pursell, married his wife Chris and joined the family business under Howard Parker’s tutelage.

RELATED: Matchmaking by actor Jim Nabors led to life on Pursell Farms

The extent to which the business was a family enterprise was impressed upon David Pursell at an early age.

“It’s been all these different generations of people,” he noted. “Again, about the land. The fertilizer business. There were a lot of cows involved always. And the mealtime conversations I just remember about the company. Even though I was young when I was coming up in the business, I actually was not sheltered from really anything about the fertilizer business itself. So, I learned a lot just around the dinner table.”

His first job was working in the family business as a 12-year old shoveling cottonseed in the warehouse. He has been at it ever since.

“All through high school I worked in the family fertilizer plant here in Sylacauga,” he remembered. “Went to Auburn, came back every summer, worked on the family farm here. Or doing something with the family business. So, when I get out of Auburn in December of 1980 it was never even a thought of going to work anywhere else. This was something I knew. It was in my blood, but it was a passion because I knew so much about it. It was kind of like ‘Hey, this is my family heritage.’”

Not only did he decide to enter the family business, but he also got married and moved out to live on the farm for the first time. That is where he and Ellen began raising what would ultimately become a family with six children.

During that time, Pursell and his family came to really know the land through time spent on it and with the help of a couple of four-wheelers they owned.

“At one time we didn’t even have a TV set,” he said. “We would just kind of takeoff and go on these adventures and we would spend hours and hours and hours just going around the farm – what is now Pursell Farms that nobody ever got a chance to see.”

RELATED: Enjoy the breathtaking view from atop Pursell Farms

Something his creative mind did see on those jaunts was the potential of the land and what it could become – what it has become today.

“Although I was in my early twenties, I didn’t have the means to do squat, so it was just kind of something I stored,” he remarked. “I guess you could say I stored it up in my heart. It was an amazing time to really get to know the land before it ever got transformed into the purposes that we used it for over the years or certainly what it is now.”

The evolution of the family business and Pursell Farms has been substantial during the four decades Pursell has lived on his family’s land.

“We had this great run in the fertilizer business for probably about 85 years,” the Pursell Farms CEO explained. “And then we started getting involved in more technological advancements. We got involved in controlled release fertilizers.”

In the 1950s, the company developed a brand-name called Sta-Green. It was his father’s “brainchild,” according to Pursell.

Under this brand, they entered the consumer lawn and garden market for the first time in addition to marketing to ornamental nursery growers, golf courses and their traditional agricultural customer base.

“Rocket fuel” added to the business

Then the company made a monumental discovery that would change its course, and that of the entire industry.

It developed the POLYON fertilizer technology.

“Amazing technology,” described Pursell. “It was kind of like rocket fuel compared to kerosene. We’re from Sylacauga, Alabama. I can’t overemphasize that more. We were competing against public companies that were operating in foreign countries and whatever, and we were just Sylacauga. We only had one plant and it was right here in downtown Sylacauga.”

The company developed and patented the technology to manufacture a coating for application to any type of fertilizer product. The thicker the coating, the longer the product would last. They developed different grades for different uses. Certain grades were developed for agriculture, others for tasks as sensitive as fertilizing golf course greens. The release technology allowed it to last anywhere from six weeks to one-and-a-half years. Nothing like this had ever been done before.

The structure of the company changed, as well, in 1997 when the consumer fertilizer segment was sold off. Taylor Pursell, David’s brother, went with the new company to serve as its CEO. David Pursell also recalled it being a time when his father, Jimmy, was beginning to remove himself from the day-to-day operation of the business.

“So, this was really my baby to run with,” David Pursell said. “It was an exciting time, but it was also kind of scary when you think about it because we had a lot riding on it. At the time, we had very little sales. We were still trying to kind of figure out how we were going to put this company together. Our main goal was to take this rocket fuel, this POLYON technology and figure out how are we going to get this fertilizer technology applied to every golf course in North America.”

What they needed was a customer base who understood the product. Not an easy task given the complexity of the product and its use.

“You can’t just make a flyer on it and them get it,” explained Pursell.

Another challenge was the fact that the product sat at a higher price point than most on the market.

“We knew that if our potential customers, our prospective customers, if we could convince them and tell them the story and have them understand it that we couldn’t come up with a reason why they couldn’t buy it because it’s just a matter of getting the point across to them,” said Pursell.

He and his company came up with an innovative sales and marketing strategy: They brought their customers to Sylacauga.

The company moved its headquarters from downtown Sylacauga to the family property outside of town and onto the land that is now Pursell Farms.

RELATED: How did Renaissance art (and a pool table Ronald Reagan played on) get to Sylacauga?

It was through the creation and implementation of a “visitation strategy” that the Pursells invited prospective customers to the farm to “state the case” for the use of their unique fertilizer product.

After the company headquarters was constructed, they then built accommodations to host their customers. The experience consisted of a two-night trip of education and fellowship for 20 people at a time. The Pursells did this twice a week for 42 weeks out of the year.

“We were trying to put our best foot forward with people that we didn’t know,” Pursell outlined. “You have one chance to make a first impression, so to speak. So we wanted to kind of showcase the family, the family business, eventually we would get to the product. What we knew was that we needed to build a relationship with these people, first, before we would get them to buy anything from us.”

Even with all of the information that was exchanged about the product, Pursell believes the focus was really on one aspect of each growing relationship.

“Essentially, it’s building trust,” he declared. “The trust was built over this three-day period of time.”

He credits their ability to build the requisite trust as a result of southern hospitality mixed with the introduction of the technology.

“Everything we did, nobody else was doing at the time,” he noted.

When Pursell felt the need to take their sales to an entirely new level, he tapped into the vision he had held for the land all those years.

In 2001, they began construction of FarmLinks. By 2003, with the golf course complete, their customers could understand the product even better by seeing it in what he termed “a real laboratory.”

With the beauty of the property, “it’s a pretty easy sell when you get people here,” he observed.

“Even if somebody wanted to copy it, it would be pretty hard for them to do it just because it was a huge investment on our part,” Pursell explained. “And it was something, as I look in my rear view mirror, you can pat yourself on the back and say, ‘Yeah, it worked out great’ but we didn’t know that at the time it was going to work out as good as it did.”

He calculates they have hosted more than 10,000 golf course superintendents on the property and still meets some in his own travels around the country who remember everything about their trip.

“Weaponizing” southern hospitality

In 2005, they began to attract suitors for the fertilizer business, which subsequently sold the following year.

“The farm was never going to be for sale,” he said. “This was just a marketing tool that we used to build the business up. Then we had this nice earnings pattern. The business was growing.”

However, he had a feeling it was time to sell the company even though they were 102 years old.

Having spent some time working with the acquiring company, Pursell began to contemplate how his family could forge its way into the hospitality business.

Now, Pursell Farms is a preeminent destination, and the core of its business is marketing southern hospitality.

As Pursell likes to say, their family has built a business by “weaponizing” southern hospitality.

Harkening back to the years spent hosting potential customers of their fertilizer business, Pursell knows they have been in the business of southern hospitality for a long time.

One of the reasons they are so adept at delivering southern hospitality is because they live on the property.

“My wife calls it living above the storefront,” noted Pursell. “We are always going to be the worst critics.”

He says it matters more to them because it is a family-owned business. And their involvement has only increased with some of his children and their spouses having assumed active roles.

“Everything we do is a reflection on the family,” he explained. “The family is our brand now. We don’t have a fertilizer product, per se. So, we want to do things well – excellently – and we love hosting people.”

Their love of hosting people has translated into a heightened degree of satisfaction among their guests.

Pursell Farms possesses an extraordinarily high 97% TripAdvisor rating. This means 97% of the people who provided a rating could not have rated Pursell Farms any higher.

“We’ve always been about the land”

Margaret Mitchell once wrote that land “is the only thing in the world that amounts to anything.”

For David Pursell and his family, it has amounted to much and has served as a central point in their lives. It has bound together generations of his family. It has brought thousands of people from a countless number of places to them, and it has permitted their involvement in life’s worthwhile pursuits.

As he modestly concluded, “We’ve always been about the land.”

The Yellowhammer Legacy Series tells the stories of the people and places that make Alabama beautiful. Join us throughout the year in exploring different parts of the state to discover lasting contributions to Alabama’s extraordinary culture.

Listen to David Pursells’ entire conversation with Yellowhammer:

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

37 mins ago

Montgomery Chamber appoints retired Air Force general as senior vice president

The Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce has named Brigadier Gen. Trent H. Edwards (USAF, Ret.) as senior vice president of military and community development.

The announcement was made Monday in a press release. Edwards will focus on the viability and growth of Montgomery’s military missions while leading new community-wide initiatives that fuel the regional economy and stimulate quality of life for all.

In a statement, Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Anna Buckalew said, “Trent is an incredibly skilled and experienced leader, and we are so fortunate to have recruited him and his family back to Montgomery.”

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In addition to building on the River Region’s extensive military footprint, Edwards will work to build new strategies to fuel economic and entrepreneurial growth around Montgomery’s thriving Air Force innovation hubs.

“We want Montgomery to be recognized as a destination where military families want to locate, where public/private partnerships fuel innovation and where small businesses and start-ups find fertile ground. Trent Edwards is the perfect leader to capitalize on these opportunities,” Buckalew advised.

The general comes to the Montgomery Chamber with a distinguished military career, most recently as the Air Force director of budget operations and personnel, responsible for an $80 billion budget.

Prior to that assignment, he was the comptroller and programmer for Air Force Space Command in Colorado Springs, CO. He has commanded two Air Force wings including the largest training wing in the Air Force at Lackland Air Force Base and the 42nd Air Base Wing at Maxwell Air Force Base from 2012-2014. He also has extensive intergovernmental experience, previously serving as the Air Force chief of congressional affairs. His extensive leadership experience and familiarity with the River Region community makes him uniquely qualified for his new role at the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce, the release emphasized.

“I have spent 30 years serving my country and am proud to return to Montgomery and serve the community we adopted as home,” Edwards commented. “One of my primary goals will be changing the perception of Montgomery and spreading the word that Montgomery really is the best hometown in the Air Force.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

Bradley Byrne: Donald Trump ‘absolutely does not want’ Jeff Sessions to be U.S. Senator

Jeff Sessions’ entry into the U.S. Senate race last week has shown something Alabamians have not seen in decades: blunt criticisms, sometimes hostile, aimed at Sessions, who before serving in the Trump administration served Alabama for two decades in the U.S. Senate.

Prior to getting in the contest for U.S. Senate, Sessions was also a target of President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly indicated his disappointment and frustration with Sessions’ service as U.S. Attorney General.

During an appearance on Huntsville radio’s WVNN, U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope) discussed his former Alabama congressional delegation colleague and his decision to run against him in the March 3, 2020 GOP primary. According to Byrne, he has not seen any wavering of support.

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“We’re not noticing any difference. Obviously, in the last couple of weeks, we’ve talked to a large number of people. I, in particular, have talked to a large number of people. You know, I’ve got former Vice President Cheney and his daughter Liz, who is in the House, coming to a fundraiser for me in Birmingham this Thursday. So, I’ve been on the phone with quite a few people about that. We’re just not hearing any difference.”

Earlier this month, Byrne was in attendance with Trump at the Alabama-LSU game in Tuscaloosa. Byrne claimed Trump did not want Sessions to be the victor in next year’s contest.

“The president was pretty clear that he’s still pretty angry with Jeff,” Byrne said. “He absolutely does not want him to be U.S. Senator from Alabama. But you know, he recognizes Jeff has a right to run. Jeff is running. I just don’t think it is going to go anywhere. A lot of the American people are either angry with him, or they’re bewildered why he is running in the first place. And these ads that he is running aren’t helping him any. I can tell you that.”

Later in the interview, when asked about his personal reaction to Sessions’ eleventh-hour decision to run, Byrne acknowledged he was surprised. Byrne also said he and Sessions had been talking over the past year and that Sessions had even encouraged him to run.

The Baldwin County Republican added he saw this as a characteristic of Sessions.

“I just got to say this, Jeff vacillates like that,” Byrne added. “That’s kind of his M.O. He has a hard time making up his mind about things. And then he’ll make a decision like that — that kind of surprises you at the last minute. It doesn’t distress me, but a lot of my supporters are pretty darn angry with him, and a lot of my supporters used to be his supporters. So, I think that makes it more difficult for him.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

3 hours ago

7 Things: Impeachment slog continues, officers involved in Madison shooting still off the street, Chick-fil-A caves to their enemies and more …

7. Iron Bowl details announced 

  • The SEC announced that the Iron Bowl will be played at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn this year on November 30 at 2:30 p.m.
  • The game is set to be broadcasted on CBS. The weekend before the Iron Bowl, Auburn and Alabama are matched up against Samford and Western Carolina, respectively, but Alabama will be playing its first game without quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

6. Ohio wants to ban all abortions

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  • Lawmakers in Ohio have proposed a bill that would ban abortions and bring murder charges against doctors who perform abortions, except for in a situation where a doctor saves the life of the mother but has to terminate the pregnancy.
  • State Representative Candice Keller (R-Ohio) said, “The time has come to abolish abortion in its entirety and recognize that each individual has the inviolable and inalienable Right to Life.” Ohio already has a “heartbeat” abortion law, and this would just take it one step further.

5. President Trump’s doctor: There are no concerns with Trump’s health

  • Speculation ran rampant, as was expected after the president made an unexpected stop at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, but in a memo released by Dr. Sean Conley, physician to the president, he explained that the visit was part of a routine checkup but was kept off the record because of “scheduling uncertainties.”
  • This will placate absolutely no one, but Trump’s physician said his total cholesterol is 165, with HDL of 70, LDL of 84 and non-HDL of 95, all within recommended ranges for the 73-year-old President of the United States.

4. Buttigieg isn’t fighting racial inequality very well

  • South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s 2020 Democratic presidential campaign has somewhat focused on a plan to fight racial inequality, but on the portion of his campaign website designated to such efforts, his campaign used a stock photo of a Kenyan woman playing with her son.
  • The issue is with more than just one picture, though, as it’s been found that Buttigieg’s campaign has a habit of using stock photos of black individuals on their website that have no affiliation with the campaign. People have especially taken issue with this since some of the stock photos were used to promote “the Douglass plan.”

3. The mob will never be satiated

  • After years of support by a die-hard fanbase that liked the fact that a chicken restaurant was willing to stand by their principles of its owners, Chick-fil-A announced that they would no longer be donating money to “controversial” Christian charities such as Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Salvation Army.
  • This decision was met with derision by their supporters and attacked by the people they were trying to appease. GLAAD released a statement declaring this move was not good enough, stating, “In addition to refraining from financially supporting anti-LGBTQ organizations, Chick-fil-A still lacks policies to ensure safe workplaces for LGBTQ employees and should unequivocally speak out against the anti-LGBTQ reputation that their brand represents.”

2. An internal investigation has started in Madison shooting

  • The five police officers involved in the shooting of Dana Fletcher at the Planet Fitness in Madison are to remain on leave as the internal investigation takes place, but Madison County District Attorney Rob Broussard has already said that the shooting was legally justified.
  • Despite Broussard’s observation, the Madison police review board still has to go through the case, which includes a commander, lieutenant, sergeant and officer. Chief David Jernigan said, “Our officers are constantly and consistently receiving training in all areas of 21st century policing, including de-escalation techniques, officer safety, non-lethal options, and response to resistance.”

1. Impeachment testimonies start and maybe these are the ones that really matter

  • Week one’s impeachment proceedings were relatively uneventful. America seems generally less than interested and unwilling to be persuaded one way or the other, but the American media has still sold every testimony like it was a bombshell and keeps telling us that the next one will bring it all together.
  • Tuesday’s events will broadcast on all the networks as critics of President Trump’s foreign policy are praised for their service and they proceed to tell us that they don’t like how he does his job. Some will even relay a phone call they overheard in a restaurant.

5 hours ago

Amazon selects book on ‘Mockingbird’ author Harper Lee as best nonfiction work of 2019

The book editors at Amazon.com identified “Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee” as the best nonfiction book published in 2019.

The book is from first-time author Casey Cep. The first seven stops on Cep’s book tour were in various Alabama locations.

Goodreads.com describes “Furious Hours” as: “The stunning story of an Alabama serial killer, and the true-crime book that Harper Lee worked on obsessively in the years after To Kill a Mockingbird.”

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The book details the story of Alabama Rev. Willie Maxwell, who was accused of five murders before he was shot by a vigilante during the funeral of his last victim. Harper Lee was interested in the case at the time and reported on it with the intent to eventually publish a book.

Lee never published her work on the case, which “Furious Hours” investigates thoroughly.

The Amazon selection continues a good run of publicity for the Knopf published book. Terrance Finley, CEO of Alabama-based bookseller Books-A-Million, made “Furious Hours” his President’s Pick earlier this year.

The book spent a month on the New York Times Bestsellers List.

Additionally, Furious Hours is a finalist for the Southern Book Prize, and was listed by Time as one of the must-read books of 2019.

You can buy a signed first edition from Alabama Booksmith here, or a regular edition here.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

6 hours ago

Tide players Jerry Jeudy and DeVonta Smith named semifinalists for Biletnikoff Award

On Monday, University of Alabama Crimson Tide wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and DeVonta Smith were named as semifinalists for the Biletnikoff Award.

According to the award’s website, “The Biletnikoff Award is presented annually to the season’s outstanding college football receiver regardless of position.”

Jeudy and Smith make up two of the 12 receivers receiving a semifinalist nomination. Both Alabama and LSU had two receivers recognized. The four receivers from those two programs made up the entirety of the SEC’s nominees for the Biletnikoff Award.

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Jeudy won the award in 2018. He joined Amari Cooper as the only other Tide player to win the award in its 24-year history.

Jeudy has a chance to become the third player, after Michael Crabtree and Justin Blackmon, to win the award twice.

Fred Biletnikoff was a decorated receiver at Florida State in college and for the Oakland Raiders in the NFL.

The three finalists for the Biletnikoff award will be identified on November 25. The 2019 winner will be announced on December 12 at The Home Depot College Football Awards at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, Ga.

Full list of nominees as follows:

Player School
Rashod Bateman Minnesota
Omar Bayless Arkansas State
Ja’Marr Chase LSU
Antonio Gandy-Golden Liberty
Isaiah Hodgins Oregon State
Justin Jefferson LSU
Jerry Jeudy Alabama
CeeDee Lamb Oklahoma
Michael Pittman, Jr. USC
James Proche SMU
DeVonta Smith Alabama
Sage Surratt Wake Forest

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95