Southern African golfers have won 14 of the 37 editions of 'Africa's Major', but Grace's victory last year, by one stroke from Scott Jamieson of Scotland, having carded a final-round 6-under 66, was the first by a local player since Trevor Immelman in 2007.
Grace, who has won eight times on the PGA European Tour, and once on the PGA Tour in the U.S., is one of 11 South Africans in the field at the Gary Player Country Club this week.
He whispered to Player as he handed the crystal trophy back to the tournament host in a televised ceremony on Tuesday: "Hopefully we can keep it in South Africa again this week".
"I'm super excited to be back here," he said during the ceremony.
"This is a tough week defending. It's never easy, but I've done it before so hopefully I can do it again."
In describing his feelings in winning the tournament last year, Grace served up inspiration for his compatriots.
"Winning South Africa's biggest event was great," he said.
"And winning a tournament you grew up watching, and you see some legendary names on the trophy as well -- it's great."
"It's the first tournament that I came to watch live and watch my heroes play," Schwartzel said.
"It's always really good to be back here."
Fellow South African Erik van Rooyen is fulfilling a childhood dream as he makes his tournament debut this week.
"It's a tournament I've always wanted to play as a kid, and I came here plenty of times with the family to watch," van Rooyen said.
"It's a privilege to be here. The golf course is a ball-striker's paradise, really. You have long holes and small greens. And I feel like my game is really right on the verge."