A hole in one

Published On 12/09/2015

Local golf teaching professional finds passion for Le Bonheur

Akin teaching lessonRob Akins wanted to be a cowboy. At an early age, he raced and cared for quarter horses. But when he got tired of washing and feeding 13 horses every day, he took to his backyard – the 16th hole of a municipal golf course in Shreveport, La.

At age 11, Akins got serious about golf, and now he’s wrangling some of golf’s top teaching professionals to Memphis to benefit Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital.

Rob Akins, director of Golf instruction at the Academy at Spring Creek Ranch in Collierville, Tenn., is considered one of the top teaching professionals in the world. Seven years ago, using his connections in the golf world, he created Gurus of Golf, which has raised more than $1 million for Le Bonheur.

“You are whatever you deeply believe you are,” Akins tells his players — meaning people find a way to make their deeply-held beliefs come true. Akins’ deeply-held belief: that he could make a difference for Le Bonheur.

His idea, Gurus of Golf, has created a win for the teaching professionals who come to Memphis, a win for the teams and team sponsors who pay to participate, and a major victory for the children and programs of Le Bonheur.

A WINNING IDEA

Gurus of Golf started with a conversation between Akins and his friend, Mike Pera. Pera had been asked to chair the Le Bonheur Celebrity Pro-Am. Professional golfer Loren Roberts ran the tournament for 10 years, bringing in touring pros from the PGA tour and Champions tour and matching them with local players for a five-hour fund-raiser.

But Akins had a new idea.

Akin in cart

“Rob is an idea guy, idea after idea after idea. But this one was a pearl,” said Pera, former managing director at Marsh USA in Memphis, former Le Bonheur board member and founding board member of Spring Creek Ranch.

Akins described a tournament that brought the best teaching pros in the world to spend a day working with amateur players. He envisioned well-known, accomplished teachers working on every aspect of the game, taking films, giving instruction and spending eight or more hours engaging with the players.

“My vision was to change a vanilla format to something totally unique and different, an event with much greater value than a pro-am,” Akins recalls. “We wanted players to walk away from this event with more than just golf. Pairing top 50 and top 100 teaching professionals with a foursome to provide eight hours of active, hands-on instruction makes this event as unique and special, just like Le Bonheur.”

When Akins calls, they come– and all it took was a few phone calls. Soon Akins recruited 15 top teaching professionals, many of his closest friends and all with a history of teaching tour golfers, and a few corporate sponsors to commit to the first Gurus of Golf in 2009. Sponsors paid $10,000 a team, and 15 foursomes were matched with a pro.

Pera asked Akins, “What do we do now?”

Akins replied, “Sit back and let my group take care of it. You’ve got the world’s best here to entertain, teach and put their heart and soul into it.”

Everyone had a great time – the players and the pros. in its first year, the event netted $95,200 for Le Bonheur, double what the previous pro-am tournaments had raised. And everyone wanted to come back next year. The return rate for pros and team sponsors is more than 90 percent.

Gurus at a Glance

At Gurus of Golf, amateurs learn from and play with a Top 50 Golf Digest or Top 100 Golf Magazine teaching professional.

    Twenty amateur foursomes and 20 of the country’s top teaching professionals 
  • $10,000 per foursome for unlimited access to their pro as well as access to the other instructors; playing lesson in the morning, private instruction in the middle of the day and a playing lesson to finish out the afternoon 
  • Pre-event “Par-tee” where teachers are paired with their teams, featuring a silent and live auction which includes golf packages and vacations offered and/or attained by the pros 
  • Committee: Chair Mike Pera and Barbara Pera, Deborah and Rob Akins, Nancy and Ed Barnett, Debbie and Ken Edmundson, Mimi and Greg Gibson, Necy and Ben Livingston, and Barbara and Stefan Smith 
  • Major Sponsors: Lexus of Memphis, Ring Container Technologies, Thomas & Betts, The Barnett Group and Semmes Murphey 
  • Gurus of Golf raised $220,000 in 2015 and more than $1 million in the last seven years to help ensure that Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital can serve sick children and their families, no matter their ability to pay.

BIRDIES, BOGIES AND BBQ

Gurus of Golf is now one of the most anticipated times of the year for the teaching professionals involved. It is the only opportunity this elite group has all year to network, learn from each other and build camaraderie with their friends and peers. Akins’ now famous, end-of- the-event barbeque for the pros at his home seals the deal for most of them.

Most importantly, Akins’ passion is infectious, and the teaching pros all believe in Le Bonheur and its mission to help children.

“Rob is passionate. He really cares about whom he’s working with and sincerely wants them to improve their game. He’s very smart, versatile in his teaching approach and one of the hardest working people I’ve ever known,” said Jennifer Hudson, head golf professional at Spring Creek Ranch.

As a boy, Akins won the city golf championship three years straight. He was enamored with the golf swing and started to study it with intensity. He began teaching at age 15 and turned pro at 21, after playing for Louisiana tech University.

By the time he was 24, he knew he was meant to be a teacher and started dreaming of getting players on tour. He has mentored and taught PGA tour players who have won three Majors, 17 tour events, one national amateur championship and four state amateur championships. Akins also prepares aspiring junior players for collegiate careers. Akins shares that passion for teaching with Gurus of Golf participants.

Perhaps renowned teaching professional and repeat guru Stan Utley sums up Akins the best: “Every day I go out to teach golf or encourage a young player, I take lessons that I have learned from Rob and pass them on to my students. This is why I call Rob my friend and also a great coach. He has not only helped me to become a better player and person but also gave me the knowledge and passion to make others better.”

For more information on Gurus of Golf, contact Joanie Taylor at 901-287-5988 or joan.taylor@lebonheur.org