Although it is just a dozen years old, FarmLinks at Pursell Farms is consistently ranked as the #1 public course in Alabama. This is high praise, especially given that Alabama contains the famous Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail; a series of world-renowned venues that span the length of the state. A golf course might seem to be an unlikely source of startup tips, but FarmLinks’ journey from idea to icon offers entrepreneurs great insights.
Never up, never in. Golfers use this phrase when one of them leaves a putt short of the hole. If a putt does not at least reach the hole, it has no chance of going in. The Pursell family faced a potential “never up, never in moment” in the fall of 2001.
Following the September 11 terrorist attacks, there was a great deal of uncertainty about the future health of tourism businesses and about the American economy in general. FarmLinks was in the development stage and a decision had to be made whether to press on with building the course or take a wait-and-see approach. The Pursells decided to press on while many other golf course developers did not. This made a lot of new resources available to FarmLinks and the course was finished ahead of schedule. The takeaway: Others’ reluctance to hit their ball to the hole can create an opportunity for you.
Pivots create divots. A correctly struck golf shot from a fairway involves hitting slightly down on the ball in order to propel it skyward. As the club follows through, a strip of turf is removed from the fairway and tossed into the air. A blemish is left behind.
Pivoting a startup is generally viewed as a positive, although the concept has become a tired cliché. Lost in the romance around pivoting is the fact that abandoning business idea to emphasize another can create divots in the soul of a business. Pursell Farms started as a small fertilizer business in 1904. The company became a powerhouse over the next century which inevitably attracted potential buyers. When the decision was made to sell the fertilizer business and concentrate on the golf course and other hospitality offerings such as lodging, there was some angst about whether Pursell Farms would lose its identity. Luckily those fears have not come true. The takeaway: Although pivoting might be needed, it is not without a cost.
Hit the sweet spot. The head of a golf club is much bigger than a golf ball; this creates some margin for error. But hitting a truly magnificent golf shot requires meeting the ball with a relatively small section of the club head known as the sweet spot. Golfers who can find the elusive sweet spot regularly are rewarded with better scores.
Startups need to seek sweet spots too. For FarmLinks, building their golf course operation around small town southern hospitality has been central to success. As an illustration, a recent TripAdvisor reviewer noted that at Farmlinks “someone [is] always available to help and provide anything you need – I think they are actually magicians.” Feedback like this has helped propel the course to its #1 ranking; an accolade that in turn attracts new customers to the course. The takeaway: You can advance the ball without hitting the sweet spot, but find it and magic will follow.