What Is Curling?

What is curling? It is often compared to lawn bowling on ice. The unique feature of the game is the use of brooms to sweep the ice.

Like its landlocked cousin, golf, the origins of the sport of curling are murky with both the countries of Holland and Scotland claiming birthrights. Scotland stakes its creationist laurels on the oldest known curling stone with the date 1511 inscribed on its surface. The best evidence trotted out by the Dutch, who popularized ice skating and would seem to have an historical pedigree when it came to games played on the ice, is a painting from the mid-16th century by the Flemish painter Pieter Breughel. The canvas depicts a spirited game of curling on a frozen city canal, replete with curling stones and broom-wielding players.

Regardless of its rudimentary beginnings, contemporary curling is a gift of Scotland. The sweeping of stones worn smooth from the scraping of the North Sea across frozen lochs was an established Scottish game by the 1600s and the modern version of curling was a national mania by the 1800s. In 1838 the Royal Caledonian Curling Club (originally called the Grand Caledonian Curling Club) was ushered into existence in Edinburgh and became the definitive governing body for the game.

One of the things the RCCC did was standardize the rules for international play and those rules were needed as energetic Scottish emigrants were busily establishing the game on distant shores. The Royal Montreal Curling Club had been set up in Canada in 1807 and there was undoubtedly curling matches taking place on United States lakes from the time of the Revolution. The first organized curling club in the United States was the Orchard Lake Curling Club, chartered in 1832 at the home of Dr. Robert Burns. Dr. Burns and the boys curled on Lake St. Clair, near Detroit, Michigan.

With the age of refrigeration, curling has moved indoors and today is played on sheets of ice in a rink. To the non-initiated, curling can best be described as lawn bowling on ice. Instead of rolling balls, however, the curler slides stones down the ice. A curling stone has a maximum diameter of 36 inches and can weigh no more than 44 pounds. It is concave on the bottom to promote a cleaner slide down the ice. Rather than push the curling stone, a handle is attached at the top to facilitate the release of the stone by the player.

The best curling stones are all mined from the same location: the Ailsa Craig. The Ailsa Craig is a towering island of granite rising 1100 feet from the surface of the Firth of Clyde off Scotland's west coast. The Ailsa Craig is sometimes known as Paddy's Milestone as it sits between Scotland and Ireland. In the 1800s as many as 29 people lived on the island's 245 acres working the quarries but today the massive rock is uninhabited.

A curling sheet is 46 yards long and 14 feet wide. On either end is a house painted into the ice with concentric circles. In the center is the button, the ultimate goal. Curlers attempt to slide the stones as close as possible to the button. Each curling team is comprised of four players, all of whom will deliver two stones in alternate turns with the opposing team. When all eight stones are delivered, it constitutes and end. A match consists of 10, and sometimes, 12 ends.

A point is scored for each curling stone that winds up closer to the button than the opponent's stones. Thus, only one team can score in any given end and the number of points can range from one to eight. If no stones from either team wind up in the house no points are scored in that end. The team with the most accumulated points from the 10 ends is the match winner.

The essential elements of curling are the delivery, sweeping, and strategy. The delivery of an accomplished curler will demonstrate exquisite timing in pressing forward the 44-pound stone, drawing it back and transferring the momentum of the action with a perfectly straight slide down the ice towards the target. At the moment of release the curler is in perfect balance and a slight twist delivered to the handle to produce a rotation about 2 1/2 times.

Sweeping is the unique feature of curling which allows a player's teammates to brush the ice in front of the sliding stone to allow it to go further. Effective sweeping, which can lengthen a stoneÕs journey by over 10 feet and determine its final destination, is a function of judgment and experience. Rapid brushing and the proper amount of pressure will help give the stone the proper curl, or curve.

The difference between winning and losing a curling match is most often decided by strategy. Each team is led by a captain, or skip, who decides which shot should be attempted. A good skip takes into account not only his team's ability to execute but their attitude. Is the team of a defensive mind, preferring to knock an opponent's stone out of play and keeping the house clear of stones? Or does the team favor an aggressive game, using the stones in play to set up guards and attempt risky come-arounds to place a stone in the button? A skip must also gauge his opponentÕs tendency to play an offensive or defensive game.

In the United States there are over 15,000 curlers who compete in curling clubs around the nation, mostly in the northern tier states. The largest curling club is in St. Paul, Minnesota, with about 700 members. By contrast, the Royal Caledonian Curling Club has a registry of 20,000 active members.

Internationally, curling can be found in 30 nations with some two million curlers taking to the ice regularly. The dominant international curlers are the Canadians, who know curling as their national sport. Curling became an Olympic Sport in 1998 when it was a medal sport for the first time at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.

Wherever it is played, curling is known as a game of sportsmanship and tradition. When clubs get together in competition at gatherings known as bonspiels, it is the spirit of the game and comradeship that dominates the proceedings.

© High Speed Ventures 2011