The “Blue Light Special” at this shutdown K-Mart has been replaced by “the house.” There are still “buttons,” but not in the clothing department, they are on a sheet of ice. And you can still find “brooms” however, they are not in the Housewares Department but in the firm hands of players that have come for a game of curling.
The Traverse City Curling Club is in the final stages of opening a new 28,000-square-foot Curling Center. It’s located at the old K-Mart building at Cherryland Center and features five sheets of dedicated ice. The club had been located at the Centre Ice Arena but found their ice time was too limiting. Plus the type of ice needed for curling is different from what hockey players require.
Backers of the Curling Center say there is a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for the sport. “It checks all the boxes,” said Curling Club Vice President Kevin Byrne. “It’s very social, you can create a team with your friends and at the end of the game you socialize with your opponent,” Byrne notes the game has a tradition that the winning team buys a round of beer for the losing team and spends time getting to know the players. “There’s no negativity that comes out of curling — ever,” said Byrne.
For many their only experience with curling is every four years when the sport comes to the Olympics. Once the exclusive domain of Canadians and Scotts, it has become the fastest-growing winter sport in America. The new Traverse City Curling Center feels it’s in the driver’s seat to take advantage of the exponential growth of the sport.
Part of the reason for the popularity of curling is that it can be a life-long activity by attracting youth starting at four years old to adults into their 80s. It’s designed to accommodate wheelchair players and others who may have physical limitations. “You can pick up this sport when you would be stepping away from other activities,” said Byrne.
Byrne said the sport also teaches lifelong lessons. It’s one of the few sports without officials, instead, players will raise their hands and call fouls on themselves. For kids, they get a lesson in honesty. “It’s one of the only sports that teaches kids not to cheat,” added Byrne.
Curling is pretty simple. The goal is to get your “rock” as close to the center of a target (called a button) and score points for the team that gets closest. Players control the speed and direction of the rock by brushing away the “pebbled” ice in front of the stone. There are formalities that need to be learned, like starting each game with a handshake and a wish for “good curling.” The game ends the same way with a handshake a compliment of “good curling.”
Don’t be lulled into believing the polite competition isn’t intense. The intensity is showcased on the ice while players look for perfection. “A perfect shot is the thrill of the sport,” said Byrne. “As bad as we are, every once in a while, we screw up and make the perfect shot.”
Byrne says the new Center is a state-of-the-art facility that will be able to attract national tournaments and Olympic-level competition. It will include easy access for media networks to plug in and broadcast live.
The Curling Center is membership based but will also open to the public during “Learn to Curl” events or public tournaments, called Bonspiels. The Curling Center plans call for a restaurant and bar to move in next door and the customers have an easy view of the players and games.
More information is available at TCCurling.org.