November 23, 2012
Recreational curlers get their glory
By GEORGE KARRYS, Special to QMI Agency
On Nov. 18 in Brantford, Ont., Calgary skip Kevin Koe drew to the button for his first Grand Slam of Curling title. With that came kudos from the pundits, a winner's cheque for $20,000 (to be split amongst his four-man team, of course) and a chance, however slim, to win $1 million by the end of the season.
Thursday at the Scarboro Golf Club, no less than 28 men's and women's curling teams were into Day 4 of a very different curling event. The Dominion Curling Club Championship is now in its fourth year, and continues to grow in awareness and popularity across the country. It's the official "club" championship of the nation, celebrating the best of the recreational curler; the average Joe and Jane who plays for fun and fitness, not for cash or Olympic glory. In terms of participation, it's now the largest curling championship in the world.
And it's awesome.
There are two worlds of curling, you see, and both sides often appear bizarre and completely unrelated. Top-level or "high performance" curlers are now considered athletes, funded by sponsors and government departments, and many of them rarely appear at the club facilities they are supposed to represent. These ice warriors are estimated to make up less than 10 per cent of the many hundreds of thousands of recreational curlers, the vast group to which they once belonged, and yet it's this elite segment that gets almost all of the attention, be that TV eyeballs or press ink.
Except for this column. All hail the recreational curler!
Shannon Tatlock of Moncton is skipping the New Brunswick women's team for the second year in a row, and she's a prime example of a super-competitive rec player. Her squad finished with a 4-2 win/loss record in 2011, just missing the playoffs, and they are back again (and 3-3 at press time) with their provincial crest proudly displayed on the back of their yellow jackets.
"The difference I've noticed this year is that the teams are better," said Tatlock. "That means the Dominion (event) is doing what it's supposed to do; attract more clubs and teams to play down to make it here.
"More and more people are hearing about this championship, and they want to be here. And why not? We're treated like superstars, our fans are in the stands cheering for us, it's amazing."
Sponsored by The Dominion of Canada General Insurance Company, the TDCCC recently unveiled a new website powered by the Canadian Curling Association at www.curling.ca/thedominioncurls. Live scoring is provided, just like the other major CCA championships.
Truth is, the recreational curler will always remain the most important segment of Canada's curling world. It's this grassroots group that attracts new curlers, volunteers at the clubs, teaches clinics and tries to massage newbies into understanding the game. Moreover, the clubs help power the sport's elite by providing practice ice, while the club members help fund the sport's elite by purchasing event tickets and watching them perform on television.
And each high performance curling athlete should remember his or her very first attempt at sliding or sweeping. Once upon a time, we were all rookies aspiring to wear that jacket.
Before the first Masters stones were thrown in Brantford, Rogers Television president Scott Moore rocked a men's player meeting with news that a $1 million bonus payday will go to the one team that manages to win all four Slams this season.
But now that Koe is the one team that has that chance, reality has dulled the celebrations. No team has ever won all four Grand Slams in a season, although Koe rival Kevin Martin did win five Slams in a row over two seasons, from the fall of 2010 through early 2011.
If the $1 million isn't claimed -- Koe's next Slam is Dec. 12-16 in Kelowna, B.C. -- Sportsnet will pay bonus money of $50,000, $30,000 and $20,000 to the top three teams in the combined Slam standings. If a women's team wins both Sportsnet Slams (hello Ottawa's Rachel Homan) that will generate a $100,000 bonus; if not, a split of $25,000 will go to the top three female Slam squads.
CURLING VS GOLF -- AGAIN
At the end of last season, new owners Clublink challenged curling members at Hamilton Glendale to commit to a certain level of membership for next year -- with just a couple of month's notice -- lest the curling section be obliterated. The curlers came through, and Clublink was happy enough to hire Toronto shooter Greg Balsdon as Glendale's new curling manager.
In recent weeks, another Greater Toronto Area golf club found itself researching the viability of its operation without other sports, including curling. The results are in and they are emphatic: curling adds value to a golf/country club, plain and simple.
And it should be plain and simple. These kinds of studies have been done over and over again, and the answer is always the same: curling is a winner. Maybe some day, all golfers will finally get it.