Buys carded a four-under-par 68 at Nkana Golf Club to take a share of the early lead of the R3.2-million tournament, together with another player who also thrives north of South Africa’s borders, Chris Swanepoel. Ross McGowan and Erik van Rooyen were also on four-under after the morning field completed the first round.
“I like playing in Zambia,” said Buys, who carded a top-20 in the KCM Zambia Open in 2011, “although I didn’t play in this tournament last year, so when I played in the pro-am here yesterday, it was a bit of a shock to the system.”
At 6,412 metres, Nkana is not the longest course the Sunshine Tour professionals play on, but it’s very tight, and tee shots that are even only slightly off line will get severely punished as the first cut of rough gives way to bush that is very thick in places.
“I like this course because you have to think and you have to place your ball very precisely,” he said. “It’s not about just ripping out the driver and going for everything. And that helps me concentrate more.”
Swanepoel appreciates just about anything off the beaten track, and is up front about his love for the bushveld over spending time in cities. One of his most impressive victories came in the 2012 Golden Pilsener Zimbabwe Open, and he loves the opportunity to play outside South Africa.
“It’s always nice in Africa,” he said. “You get bigger crowds here than you get down in South Africa. And they’ve got some nice golf courses in different parts of Africa, so I really like coming here.”
He’s hitting his irons particularly well at the moment, and that’s key on a course like Nkana. “The greens are pretty small,” he said, “so you’ve got to hit it well off the tee where you can hit a lot of two-irons, because it’s so short. And then your iron-play into the greens is pretty crucial.”
Both Swanepoel and Buys showed what could be achieved by embracing the challenge offered by foreign courses, rather than fearing it.