World Curling Tour schedule problems linger

Kevin Koe of Edmonton delivers a shot during his team's 9-4 win over Kevin Martin in the...

Kevin Koe of Edmonton delivers a shot during his team's 9-4 win over Kevin Martin in the championship game of the Canad Inns Prairie Classic at Portage Curling Club in Portage la Prairie, Man. (DAN FALLOON/QMI Agency)

GEORGE KARRYS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:14 PM ET

When the Grand Slam of Curling series was rescued by Rogers Sportsnet in late summer -- the sport media giant now owns the property, not just the broadcasting rights -- high-performance curling stars breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Now that the crown jewel events of the World Curling Tour are safe, perhaps it's time for the World Curling Tour to refocus on other matters.

One subject of the WCT Great Debate has been blowing hot and cold for decades, and recently reared its ugly head during Tour Week 8 in early October.

Fans and Tour stakeholders alike -- many of them anonymous -- took to Twitter and web chat rooms to pass judgement on the supposed decline of the Westcoast Classic. The venerable Vancouver tour stop suddenly went from a 32-team men's event and a prize purse of $80,000 to an 18-team tournament with lesser dollars, and a prime culprit was singled out: The Stu Sells Toronto Tankard, which has risen in profile (and attractiveness for top teams) in only three years of operation.

Edmonton titan Kevin Martin still went west -- winning his third straight title and seventh of the last 12 years, ho hum -- but a handful of other western squads, such as Manitoba's Mike McEwen, Jeff Stoughton and Rob Fowler, chose to fly east to compete in Toronto.

Another villain, according to some, is the guy in charge of the Ontario Curling Tour: Gerry Geurts. The curling dynamo has helped build the attractiveness of the Tankard and other OCT events to the point that the same amount of Canadian Team Ranking Points (CTRS) are available in Toronto and at other OCT events as can be grabbed in other, more established WCT events -- like Vancouver.

Jabs were tweeted, such as this instigator from Martin lead Ben Hebert:

"Shout out to (McEwen, Stoughton) and Gerry Geurtz for sewering a great WCT event for a mickey mouse OCT spiel this weekend! #NikeTour."

Team Kevin Koe lead Nolan Thiessen waxed thoughtful on his team blog, declaring that "A1" events like Vancouver and Toronto should not be scheduled on the same weekend.

"To find a weekend that works means it is tough to change," Thiessen wrote. "But my thought is that the Tour needs to protect all of its events, big and small, (and) sitting (off) to the side while two big events are on the same weekend (and) is going to be fatal to one of them... that sucks!"

One problem is that virtually everyone involved in the World Curling Tour is a volunteer, from the organization's members -- the curlers -- right through to those who operate each event at the ground level.

Geurts, for his part, not only runs the OCT and the popular web portal CurlingZone; he's also on what little Tour payroll exists as operations manager, and runs its website (worldcurl.com) ... and this is a guy who is out tens of thousands of dollars after last season's Slam debacles, which helped lead to the Sportsnet rescue in the first place.

Why would such a tireless worker bee sabotage his own left arm, let alone anything to do with his beloved curling world? Obviously, he would not and did not.

Scheduling problems have been around almost as long as some of the Tour events themselves. The arrival of the Slam series in 2001 only exacerbated the problems, and the road is littered with now-defunct Tour carcasses. Who remembers the Painted Hand Classic, a superb event out of tiny Yorkton, Sask. which died of precisely this problem?

Who remembers that last big cashspiel in Atlantic Canada (Answer: probably the women's Sobey's Classic in Bridgewater, N.S.), a region that is often ignored by the curling power base in western and central Canada altogether?

Whatever the answers are, they have been elusive for a long time, so much so that the questions haven't recently been asked. Now that the Slam has been re-secured, it would behoove the Tour's movers and shakers -- including the players -- to start raking the leaves in their own backyard, far away from the Sportsnet TV lights.

PRAIRIE GOLD I

The World Curling Tour doesn't just hone the skills of wannabe Slammers and Olympians et al; each regional event has the potential to save the local curling facility. As reported by Sun Media's Jordan Maxwell in the Portage Daily Graphic, last weekend's men's Canad Inns Prairie Classic in Portage raised almost $14,000 for the struggling curling club, which has been jumping fiscal hurdles for years.

"We did fairly well at the door and it was a little slow on Monday but for the whole weekend, the turnouts were great," said rink manager Merv Joel.

"Our leagues are down this year. Generally, if we can break even we're happy. Over the years, we're losing money and this happens every year.

"We need events like this just to stay even."

PRAIRIE GOLD II

Alberta and Saskatchewan teams grabbed the biggest Tour prizes as Week 10 wrapped up on Monday. Koe won the Portage final -- and the $18,000 first-place cheque -- over city rival Martin, while at women's Slam No. 2 in Winnipeg, Saskatoon's Stefanie Lawton beat Ottawa's Rachel Homan for the Manitoba Lotteries trophy. In other Tour action, Vancouver's Brent Pierce and China's Bingyu Wang captured gold at the Valley First Crown of Curling in Kamloops, B.C.


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