By Angela Gazzillo
In 1966, Herman Dixson invited friends from Blowing Rock and Florida to the Blowing Rock Country Club for a little friendly competition in the name of golf. Fifty years later, friends of Dixson’s are still gathering from all over the South to continue the game and longstanding tradition of the tournament.
Herman started the Rhododendron Invitational Golf Tournament with 16 of some of his closest friends and golf buddies. He had a bunch of golf buddies, his son said, and simply wanted to invite them all to Blowing Rock to see what it was about, and “how cool this place is.”
After he died in 2000, Herman’s son Tom Dixson stepped in and continued the tradition.
“You don’t have many things last for 50 years, and I didn’t want the tradition to die,” Tom said. “I wouldn’t give it up for anything.”
The Rhododendron Tournament takes place over the course of five days every summer, with participants flying in to Blowing Rock from places across the country, including Florida, Texas and Mississippi.
To kickoff this year’s events, a drawing party was hosted at Tom’s house on Tuesday evening, June 14. There were approximately 30 men in attendance, and from then it was narrowed down to 19 participants. The tournament was played Wednesday through Saturday, June 15- 18, with the awards ceremony concluding Saturday afternoon.
The Dixson family does not use the term ‘tradition’ loosely. One participant has been playing in the tournament for nearly four decades, a true testament to the dedication of the players and friends that make the weekend so special.
“It’s not just anyone,” Tom said. “Every one of the guys looks at it as a real treasure. They respect the tradition, they come here with wonderful attitudes and they share the friendships with everyone here in Blowing Rock.”
Wayne Smith, director of golf at Blowing Rock Country Club, has been able to see the tournament continue firsthand for 33 years.
“It’s a complete second generation of players now,” Smith said. “Herman used to bring folks up from Orlando and Tom and his brother would play in it. Some of these seniors quit playing, but Tom has kept the tradition playing with his contemporaries.”
The tournament was named after the large amount of Rhododendron on the course and in the rough. Herman’s friends who were visiting from out of town were not used to the rhododendron on the green.
“He invited his friends to see who could hit the ball into the rhododendron trees the most,” Tom laughed. “He got the biggest kick out of it.”
Tom does not plan for the tradition to end anytime soon.
“I hope to continue adding to it, and turn some of it over to my nephew,” he said. “I’d love to see it continue for 50 more years.”
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