Moody County Enterprise | Golf: More than a sport

If you’ve ever had the chance to play a round of golf with Derek Burshiem or even watch him play, you know that he is passionate about the game. The Flandreau resident does his best to be out on his home course at River’s Bend, or any other course, almost every single day. He’s entered countless tournaments across the state and region. Over a 40 year career, he’s earned four SDGA Championships, numerous runner-up finishes, and a great deal of respect among his peers. He is a three-time Senior Male Golfer of the Year.
It’s more than the wins, however, that have people noticing Burshiem’s ​​work on the links.
Over the course of his life and his time in Flandreau, Burshiem has volunteered countless hours at Rivers Bend Golf Course, helping to manage and maintain the course through difficult times. He has been deeply involved with junior golf at Rivers Bend and Flandreau High School. Burshiem also recently formed a non-profit, the 1st American Golf Association. He is dedicated to helping other Native American youth learn the game believing that it will give them the tools to succeed in life.
His passion for the sport had someone nominate him earlier this year for the South Dakota Golf Hall of Fame. This past Sunday, Burshiem was inducted. He is the first Native American in South Dakota to earn the distinction.
What has Burshiem picking up the sticks as often as he does or staying dedicated to the sport?
Somewhere along a fairway or on the greens is where Burshiem says that he feels the most himself. It’s been that way since he was a young boy, his step-father formally introducing him to golf the first summer he moved to Flandreau.
His own father, however, is who kept Burshiem coming back out day after day — even in his absence.
“When I was eight-years-old, we were living in Alaska. My father was in the military,” he said. “One day, I was out playing in the trees and I started a fire. My youngest sister was there and I sent her home. When I came back, my dad punished me. He spanked me, and I was lying in bed crying and I stopped for a few seconds and I said, ‘God, I wish my dad was dead.’ About three months later, he died. I believed that I killed him with that prayer. Golf filled in gaps and gave me a place to go and a place to be where I felt I was okay. So, every day I came out and played and it just filled in that gap. I wanted to pursue it more and more and learn as much as I could.”
Through the game, he’s learned a lot over the years about life and about himself. He has since, very earnestly passed his love and passion for the game on to his own children and grandchildren. They all play. The youngest, Kenzie, is just getting started. Her older brother, Kaden, just recently scored a hole in one on the Flandreau course, following in his sister Keva’s footsteps. His own boys took Flandreau’s High School Golf Team to a State Championship over the course of their own careers.
The Burshiem’s ​​oldest son, BJ, was tragically killed on his way home from the golf course he managed in rural Nebraska in 2016. Burshiem said that he often spends time near hole #4 on the Flandreau course, to sit awhile, soak up a few moments of solitude and sun, and feel close to him. For some reason, that’s just their place.
He doesn’t dwell, however, on the losses. Rather, it is what might be gained through time on the course that he is now focused on sharing with others.
“It’s a feeling of satisfaction,” he said, ahead of the ceremony this past week. “I have wanted somehow to be remembered in the game of golf, golf saved my life. Now since I’ve hit a level that I’ve wanted to be at, I want to give that to other kids, I want to give them the same opportunity that I had to find myself.”
Burshiem and his board are working on a plan to get the 1st American Golf Association up and running. Covid made it a challenge over the past several years but the plan is to work with Native youth and give them a tool that will help keep them focused and out of trouble during what are statistically some of the toughest years.
“I wish I could give the gift of golf to everyone. Kids are given things so easily anymore, they’ve lost passion for anything. Passion is what we want for kids when they find a job, when they become parents…that’s what I want to try to bring back to kids through the game of golf, passion. Most Native kids, their troublesome years are ages 17-34. If we can help boys especially through those years, they have a really good chance of succeeding.”
Final notes, Burshiem’s ​​favorite course to play: Dakota Ridge in Morton, Minnesota. “I would play there all the time if I could.”
Favorite tournament: Walker, Minnesota’s All Native American Tournament each fall.
Favorite person to credit for his success: his wife, Gayle. “She’s always there to help keep me grounded and pick me up when I’m down.
His mother was a tribal member at Santee and his father, Sisseton.