Experience  FarmLinks Golf Club at Pursell Farms

When you talk about vacation destinations in Alabama, Sylacauga isn't one that comes up too much, if at all.

Yet it should.

You see, this town, located less than an hour from Birmingham, has a secret that travelers need to know about, especially those who actively seek out golf courses while on the road.

Here you'll find a 3,500-acre golf and recreational resort, FarmLinks Golf Club at Pursell Farms. This isn't your typical golf course. It's the world's only research and demonstration golf course. Every year over 1,000 golf superintendents from the top courses in the world come here to participate in Experience at FarmLinks to test run products, equipment and more.

Since FarmLinks opened to the public 2003, it has received many accolades. Most recently, the course was recognized as the No. 1 Public Access Course in Alabama by Golfweek Magazine, and a five-time recipient of the Customer Satisfaction and Loyalty Award by the National Golf Foundation.

Perhaps Tim Spanjer, director of marketing, sums it up best when he says, “It's a golf experience unlike anything else.”

“You really have to see and play the course to get the idea.”

The 7,400-yard (tees are set at 5,919 yards for beginners), par-72 course designed by Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry, is open with no blind spots.

“It's a long course,” says Spanjer. “The fairways are wide and generous, very forgiving as a whole. However, it's not made for walking.”

He adds the course is hilly with a challenging mix of elevation changes, mountain vistas and lakes. Extremely scenic (and “beautiful”), you're fairly secluded on each hole.

As for the signature hole, it's number 5, a par 3 featuring a 170-foot vertical drop.

“The green is well down below. Deceiving to the eye, it causes players to rethink their club selection.

Rates vary depending on your tee time and the season.

“The one fee not only covers all-day golf, but also unlimited use of the practice facilities, a cart, range balls, lunch in the clubhouse, snacks and beverages.”

While golf is important here, there are other activities to keep you busy. The Farm offers a 5-stand clay shooting  that welcomes both beginners and experienced shooters. There are three different  lakes for fishing and gear is available if you forgot (or didn't have room) to bring your own. You can also go hunting, depending on the month and availability. The Farm hosts different hunts throughout the year.

And of course, being in the south, food matters. The Farm prides itself on farm-to-table creations, using seasonal vegetables from their garden at the FarmLinks Grille. With an ever-changing menu, expect a little of everything.

The accommodation choices vary and range from the Parker Lodge, overlooking the 17th green and Lodge Lake to the intimate Hamilton Place and Guest House, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as well cabins and cottages.

The next time someone suggest a getaway in Alabama, suggest Sylacauga and when they look at you, tell them about FarmLinks Golf Club at Pursell Farms; and then they'll understand.