By Michael Vlismas for Sunshine Tour
Dean Burmester was so inspired by witnessing his first rhino dehorning project that he produced a round of seven-under-par 65 with as many birdies as he could muster to contribute to anti-poaching efforts and lead the first day of the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek on Thursday.
Burmester and a number of other professionals support a campaign called Birdies4Rhinos in which they donate money for every birdie they make in the season to rhino conversation. And it was his experience of the dehorning earlier this week that inspired him to produce one of his best back nines ever at Leopard Creek on Thursday.
“What a back nine. Some of the best golf I’ve played in a while. A back nine to remember, that’s for sure,” he said as he came home with six birdies to take the lead.
“Earlier this week we went on a rhino dehorning project in the neighbouring Kruger National Park and it was quite an emotional experience. The thought of that came to me after the turn and I just wanted to make as many birdies as I could do keep supporting that cause,” he said.
Burmester leads by one over Lukas Nemecz of Austria who did his scoring in the calmer morning conditions, and started his round with three straight birdies. “That makes life a lot easier,” he said.
Former champion Branden Grace is one of five golfers just two shots off the lead.
Burmester is certainly relishing being back in South Africa after a year of travel on both the DP World Tour and PGA Tour. And he’s particularly enjoying being back in the bush this week.
“We had a lovely game drive with the family this morning and saw lion and leopard on the way out. That put me in a great mood. We rushed back, I had a quick change and was delighted to hear that we could play in shorts because of the heat, had a bite to eat and then got myself ready and that mood carried into the day. It was probably one of the most fun rounds of golf I’ve had in a while. I hope I can keep enjoying myself. We know this golf course can bite you but America has paid dividends. I’ve played a lot on Bermuda grass this year and that has helped me a lot this week.”
Grace was very happy with his start to a tournament he won in 2014 by a commanding seven shots.
“It’s always nice to come back to South Africa and play golf courses like this, which is one of the best. It’s nice to see how the changes have now settled in here. There is no rough this week so that’s different but the greens will firm up as the week goes on, that’s for sure. This course will show its teeth over the next few days so let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”