That First Bonspiel

What is a bonspiel anyway? It sounds like a German word and curling was created about the same time in Scotland as golf.  It’s not enough that we have to explain the game to all our non-curling friends; then we have these quirky little terms as well.  A bonspiel is a curling tournament and there is nothing like going to the first one. Just listen to what a group of Palmetto Curlers had to say about their first experience. All but one had never tried curling until this year.

PCC fielded two teams for the Second Annual Grand National Curling Club Arena Championships hosted by the Triangle Curling Club in Wake Forest, North Carolina, June 10-12. An added bonus was an ice clinic held on the evening of June 9. Four of the group attended the clinic (Kurt Wagner, Steve Bruce, Glenn Foster and Bill Marshall) and came away with new ideas to improve our ice conditions at the Pavilion. Ideally, curling ice is dedicated ice, not “Arena hockey, ice-skating ice” that has all kinds of challenges for our ice sensitive sport. Until that day we have our own ice, we are thrilled to be able to curl at all in South Carolina.

The games began on Friday morning with four matches going on at the same time and continued through the finals at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday. All teams are guaranteed three games. Wins and losses for each team get entered on the master draw sheet and making it to Sunday morning semi-finals is quite an accomplishment. One of our teams did, the team skipped by Andy Philip. With Third, John Corcoran, Second, Dave Delauder and Lead Kurt Wagner, they played one game on Friday, three on Saturday and the semi-final on Sunday morning, resulting in 3 wins and two losses. The Bill Marshall rink came away with the same record with Glenn Foster at Third, Steve Bruce at Second and Grant Burrows at Lead position.

OK, those are the facts, now some of the feelings.

Bill Marshall, our one experienced curler said, “This was the first official bonspiel I attended since high school in Canada. In school sports as I recall, it was more serious and less a social event. What I experienced at the GNCC Arena Championship was completely different. Yes, there was competition and a competitive spirit but there was also support for your fellow curlers. The team you just lost against was more than likely the team you cheered for in the next round. It was a great weekend.  I am looking forward to attending future bonspiels to recapture that bonspiel feeling.”

Grant Burrows learned among other things, “We met a team from Atlanta during the Bonspiel; they are called a ‘paper club,’ which I later found out was a club with no ice! It makes me realize how fortunate we are here in Greenville to have ice and our own set of new stones.”

Andy Philip who has been curling since we started last June said, “In all the other sporting/social events I have participated in, from mixed baseball tournaments to fun golfing outings, the teams tended to socialize among themselves, in this bonspiel all the teams mingled in one big social event – you knew the names of 20 people that you’d never met before – in the first night. There was a sense of camaraderie very quickly, teams cheered for one another because it may have been the team they lost to last, it may have been the team they had lunch with, it may be a team from their part of the country or it may have just been a great shot. One of the teams had black t-shirts emblazoned with rock band instruments, each member a different instrument. What was cool was that they actually played. The kids loved it and would run up to the players and beg them to play a few notes! The common thread of curling made it very easy to just start a conversation with the next person in the food line or the skip that just came off the ice. The hosts did a very good job of building on that fact, there were two sitting areas for meals, one general area and one area specifically for the teams just coming off the ice. There were 4 tables in the latter room with a center piece that was numbered from 1 to 4. There many spouses there as spectators, including my wife Lucy, who were welcome to join the table after the game which made for an even more friendly atmosphere. It is amazing how hard the volunteers from Triangle worked – they never stopped and always had a smile! On the ice, the etiquette was very evident from every team, while at the same time, everyone knew we were in a bonspiel so there was always an undercurrent of competitiveness while on the ice. Not only do I want to play in another bonspiel as soon as possible but I plan to do everything I can to convince the curlers at PCC to host an event!”

John Corcoran was Andy’s Third, “My wife summed it up after the first day in saying that the bonspiel could have been taken from the set of a Christopher Guest movie (Best in Show and A Mighty Wind).  There were so many people from different walks of life that came together around a wonderful sport.  The participants spanned the range from college student to people in their 70s.  You had the team that had musical t-shirts to teams with matching tailored slacks and muscle shirts to the punk rock team in their roller derby attire and everything in between.  I wasn’t sure what to expect having only curled for 9 months and attending my first bonspiel.  Maybe it was us but everyone was really social after the first round and by that Saturday night I think I had talked to half the participants.   As far as competition, I was a little nervous going in, three fourths of our team has curled for less than a year.  However, I soon found out that there was a wide range of competitors from the beginners to the serious and most were just excited to be there.  I still smile just thinking about it and spent my first day back in the office looking for a bonspiel that I could go to.”

Dave Delauder played Second for Andy, “I’ve only been curling since February, but have always enjoyed watching it during the Olympics.  This was my first Bonspiel, but definitely not the last.  Anyone with a broom was an instant friend.  From Maine to Florida, people with the same passion for the sport gathered at one rink.  What makes it different is one of the basics of curling is camaraderie.  So, although you were in intense competition, you also spent a lot of the time talking to the other team.  Afterwards, we’d sit down, exchange club pins, and talk about our own clubs and experiences. After 4 days, I left with a ton of memories, and a bunch of new friends, that I look forward to competing against in the very near future.”

Last but not least, Kurt Wagner played Lead for Andy and gave a great account of a particular game situation, “Saturday night’s game made the trip worth it. This will be one of my top sports memories. There were a bunch of people lined up against the boards drinking a beer, and watching the 8:15 p.m. draw. By the time we started the 8th end we were the only sheet (we were playing on sheet 1, closest to the bleachers) still playing, and there was a pretty large crowd. Andy said that he wasn’t going to try a particular shot because he didn’t think we had enough room to make it. John talked him into it, which turned out to be a great decision. There was a loud roar from the crowd when we made the shot and won the game. Wish we had some video of that game, especially the 8th end.

So, that was just one bonspiel, one weekend and brand new curlers. If you are looking for the kinds of experiences these people talked about, Palmetto Curling Club hopes you will come out for one of our two Open Houses on July 19th or August 16th at 7:30 p.m. for a free try at this unique sport.  Click here for more information and to sign up for one or both of our Open Houses.