While the sport of curling looks simple and easy, there is nothing simple and easy about sliding a 40-pound stone down a sheet of ice and having it stop exactly where you want it.
The Triangle Curling Club along with the Durham Sports Commission hosted local media on Monday to spotlight the sport to the area. It’s something the club has done many times before the Winter Olympics. The games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, start this week with the opening ceremonies Friday.
The rising popularity of the sport, especially on television, was seen during the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. NBC reported more than 5 million people watched one day of coverage for curling during those games.
The club has benefited greatly from previous Olympic bumps.
At its first open house after the Sochi games, about a thousand first-time curlers showed up at The Factory in Wake Forest, said club member Lea Franklin. The club, which was founded in 1995, since has moved to its own facility in the Research Triangle Park off Ellis Road. It’s had its own building with four sheets now and about 200 members.
“We’re excited about the Olympics, and so is our club,” Franklin said.
The club offers a social outlet for area snowbirds, transplanted Canadians or anybody else who likes hanging out and playing a cold-weather sport – no skates required. Inside the club is a warm side and cold side. The warm side has a bar and kitchen, while the cold side has the ice where the games are played.
Club member Derek Corbett, who was a 2012 Junior U.S. Champion, said he looked into the club before deciding to attend graduate school at N.C. State.
“Having a curling club, a good curling club definitely influenced my choice in graduate school,” Corbett said. “It’s like no other curling club I’ve been to.”
And he’s been to some nice ones.
“I like this club because it is so social,” Corbett said. “At this club, we have strangers coming in all the time to learn about the game and we try to make them feel welcome. We’re trying to show how much fun we’re having and what a great game curling is.”
The nonprofit club is open to the public and is home to numerous leagues from beginner to advanced as well as offering pick-up games. Franklin said membership has grown steadily.
The Olympics are not the only big event coming up for the Triangle Curling Club. Next week the club welcomes the U.S. Women’s Curling Association, which is bringing 32 teams in from across the country for the 2018 USWCA National Women’s Bonspiel Feb. 14-18.
Teams from states in the upper midwest – Minnesota and Wisconsin – may be favored to win but Franklin said hosting the event is a coup for the Triangle.
It is the first time this national championship has ever been held south of Virginia, according to the Durham Sports Commission.
The goal of curling is to slide a 40-pound granite stone toward the center of a circular target about 100 feet down the ice. Teams of four players each take alternating turns sliding their rocks toward the “button,” or the center of the target, which is called the “house.”
The path of the rock mostly is determined by the force, direction and spin with which a player pushes it down the ice. But it can be influenced by two players called sweepers. They walk with the stone down the ice and may use special brooms to sweep a path for it if the captain, or “skip” determines the path is off. The course correction is slight, but at the highest levels of competition, that’s all that is required for a perfect placement.
Strategy in curling can be as complex as chess.
With each team sliding eight rocks apiece during a turn or an “end,” there are plenty of potential outcomes. Teams either can play aggressively by trying to slide more of their rocks into the house. Or they can choose a more defensive style, which is accomplished by trying to stop their rocks short of the house to create a barrier or “guards.”
The score of an end is not determined until the final stone comes to rest.
So a team could have three stones sitting in the house and looking good to score. But if the last stone of the end, or the “hammer” lands closest to the button then it is that rock which scores a point, leaving those three in meaningless positions.
Curling is most popular in Canada, and that’s from where the best players come. But with clubs like the Triangle Curling Club operating and the willingness of players to teach the game, can the game take off here?
It already has.
The club sent multiple teams to a tournament in New York last weekend, and two squads brought back first-place trophies. The tournament was for players with five or fewer years playing experience, and the two wins came in the top two divisions, according to the club.