Cape Town - The Sunshine Ladies Tour campaigners were full of praise for the Soweto Country Club green-keeping staff ahead of Wednesday's first round of the R500 000 Joburg Ladies Open.
Seeing the course for the first time, three-time champion Nicole Garcia was positively gushing about the greens.
"I didn't play last year because I was still on the bench after my hip surgery. The girls told me that the greens were incredibly firm, and the fairways were still patchy but I saw none of that today," said the Ebotse golfer - the most recent trophy recipient after a double victory in the Canon Serengeti Par-3 Challenge on Sunday.
"I was so pleasantly surprised. The course is a great test like every other Gary Player design and the greens are beautiful. The green-staff must have worked incredibly hard in the last 12 months. You can go for a lot of the pins this year, and we will see a lot more birdies. Everyone that played last year can't stop gushing. The staff can be so proud of what they have achieved in just a short year."
Three-time winner Monique Smit echoed Garcia's sentiments.
"It was amazing to see the difference," exclaimed the Oubaai golfer. "I told my caddie - the same one I had this year - walking to the first tee that we will have to plan for the firm greens, but they have settled so incredibly well. The greens are receptive and the fairways have grown in nicely. It was super-fun playing the pro-am, and watching our seeing our partners making birdies.
"This is probably one of the tightest courses we play all season, and you are going to have to keep it in play and stay out of the trees if you want to go low. Keep finding the greens. Keep it simple."
Former South African Open champion Tandi McCallum and rookie Casandra Hall chased champion Nobuhle Dlamini all the way to the finish line last year and both players will be gunning for success.
McCallum, second last year, already wore the bridesmaid tag twice this season.
The Parkview golfer lost the SuperSport Ladies Challenge to Lejan Lewthwaite in a play-off and, this time partnering Lethwaite, they were beaten by Garcia and Scottish golfer Gabrielle Macdonald in a four-hole play-off in the Canon Serengeti Par-3 Challenge Pro-Am.
Although she was peppering the flags in the final round at Serengeti, McCallum's putter wouldn't cooperate. "I had two chances in the play-off to win it with birdies, and the putts died on me. I spent some quality time with the flat-stick on Monday and I'm ready to fire. I'm driving the ball really well, so I'm confident that I can keep it play. And the girls are raving about how the greens have matured, so hopefully it's third time lucky for me."
Hall returned from Spain in January with a brand-new Ladies European Tour card in her pocket.
She is still chasing a maiden Sunshine Ladies Tour title and this week and the R600 000 Jabra Ladies Classic next week at her home course, possibly represents her best two chances. Third in last year's event, the Glendower pro is keen to rekindle her love affair with Soweto Country Club.
"A lot of people didn't like the course last year, but I loved it from the word go and it's even better this year. I love the layout; it suits my game. I really enjoyed playing last year as an amateur, The pressure is slightly different this time, but competing on the Vodacom Origins series last year helped me settle into the pro environment."
If she can channel some positive energy, hit it straight and roll in some putts, Hall could very well be crowned the sixth Joburg Ladies Open champions on Friday.