It looks like that will continue this year as the tournament gets set for its 24th edition.
Each year, a growing contingent of golfers come to Elizabethton from Franklin, North Carolina, to play in the tournament, and this year the group is up to 15.
“We like the tournament because it’s for all levels of golfers,” said Mitchell Nidiffer, who has been playing in the event with his wife, Felicia, for 12 years. “No matter your skill level, you tee the ball up and do the best you can do. The course is always in great shape and everybody up here has always been really nice.”
The 54-hole tournament begins Friday at Elizabethton Golf Course and runs through Sunday.
When the Nidiffers first played in the tournament, they went back home to Franklin and began to spread the word. They’re originally from Carter County but didn’t start playing golf until they moved to Franklin some 20 years ago.
“It started out with Mitch and Felicia and Mike Wood,” said Joe Brooks, a Franklin resident who always seems to be in contention in the Championship Flight. “They told everybody about this tournament where they have a great time and everybody gets treated so well.”
Brooks has finished in the top 10 here in each of the past seven years. His best finish was a tie for third, and he was a factor last year, playing in the final group on Sunday before falling out of contention. Along the way, he made the rarest shot in golf, a double-eagle.
Wood will be going for this third consecutive Tri-Cities Amateur Tour event championship, having won the Seniors Division in the Tillinghast Invitational at Johnson City Country Club and the Link Hills Invitational in Greeneville.
“They’ve been coming for a long time,” tournament director Mike Matheson said. “They’ve been really supportive of our tournament. They’re just good people, every one of them. We’re tickled to death to have them and we look forward to having them come every year.”
The hospitality and the fun golf course have the North Carolinians looking forward to making the two-hour drive from their home, southwest of Asheville, each July.
“I think Mike does a phenomenal job running the tournament,” Brooks said. “And the media does a great job of covering it. It gets more media coverage of any tournament I play in in either Tennessee or North Carolina.
“I just think it’s a well run event. The hospitality is good. We’ve all been made welcome here. Each year we bring a few more over and everybody who comes always wants to come back.”
Garrett Whitfield is the defending champion. The former Science Hill golfer who plays at Austin Peay, beat 2013 champion Lucas Armstrong in a playoff.
James Fender is the defending senior champion, having beaten Mike Poe and Ronnie Breeden in a playoff. Fender finished second to Wood at Link Hills and tuned up for the East Tennessee Amateur with a round of 63 at the Crossings on the Fourth of July.