Defending champion Wendell Akins leads a contingent of local golfers in pursuit of the Baton Rouge Open golf championship beginning Saturday at Santa Maria golf course, the tournament’s customary home.

The 36-hole event is open to amateurs and professionals, and is known to feature top local players of all ages. Action begins at 7 a.m. with golfers teeing off at the first and 10th tees. An afternoon wave will begin at noon on both tees, as well.

Earlier in the week, Santa Maria course manager Fabian Sauhing said the course was in excellent shape, particularly its greens. Sauhing also said a new system, which includes three-player groups instead of foursomes, will be used to speed up the pace of play.

In recent years, scores of 3- and 4-under par have been enough to capture the title, but that changed in 2013. Former Louisiana-Lafayette golfer Brandt Garon shot 6-under, 138, to win by a stroke over Blaine Patin.

Last year, Garon stepped up his game with rounds of 69-67 for an 8-under finish. He closed his round on Sunday with an eagle at the par-5 18th, but it wasn’t enough.

Akins lead over Garon had dwindled to one shot on the back nine, but he birdied the final four holes to pull away for a two-stroke win. All totaled, he followed up a first-round 66 with a 68 on Sunday to win his first Baton Rouge Open.

Akins’ winning total of 10-under is among the lowest ever for the tournament, and was the lowest in the last 15 years according to tournament officials.

Akins will go off No.10 at 8:48 a.m. in a threesome that includes Garrett Westbrook, the 2009 Baton Rouge Open winner. Westbrook finished seventh last year after posting a 1-under total of 143.

Immediately following the Akins group, Garon will also begin at 10 with an 8:57 start.

Other golfers of note include Nicholls State golfer Peyton McCulloch, who finished third at two local tournaments last year, the Baton Rouge Open and the Baton Rouge Amateur, and Scott Haynie. McCulloch and Haynie both played well at last month’s LGA Amateur Championship at Monroe. McCulloch finished in a tie for 20th, while Haynie tied for 27th.

Haynie is also a seven-time winner of the Baton Rouge Amateur, with his last win coming in 2013.