St. Paul Curling Club Bonspiel – St. Paul, MN
So you’re in Minnesota, the land of now 20,000+ lakes, and your much anticipated ice fishing event has gotten postponed due to an unusually “warm” winter season. You need to find a quintessentially Minnesotan event within a 10 day window, so as not to interfere and your already chaotic itinerary. Well, if you’re like us, you’d enlist the help of your Twitter followers, Facebook friends, and internet randoms to help you with your search. We did just that, and miraculously kept getting the same answer: curling. And just our luck, the St. Paul Curling Club was hosting their annual Winter Carnival Mixed Bonspiel during that very 10 day window.
“Curling? Isn’t that Canadian?” – Whilst our neighbors to the north do love them some curling, the sport actually began in medieval Scotland. The first documented games were sometime in the 1500s, before Scottish immigrants brought the game to the icy regions of North America in the early 1800s. The first curling endeavors in the US were in Michigan, as the first curling club in the US opened in 1830 in Orchard Lake, MI, about 30 miles outside of Detroit.
“OK, so curling isn’t Canadian. But Americans don’t really play it.” – False. American interest in curling has steadily risen over the years, with new curling clubs popping up all across the US landscape. New clubs have opened in California, Texas, Arizona, and Florida. But curling has always been popular in the north, where states like North Dakota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota have had curlers for over 100 years. Curling in Minnesota dates as far back as 1856, when early curlers took to the Maple River near Mapleton. Curling made its way to St. Paul around 1870, when published reports referred to people curling on the iced over Mississippi River.
The first ever St. Paul Winter Carnival in 1886 buoyed curling’s popularity in the area, as hundreds of curlers came to St. Paul and played on 8 sheets of ice in Central Park near the Ice Palace. Curling continued to rise as many Scottish and Canadians immigrated into the area during the turn of the century. Different curling clubs came and even though the St. Paul Curling Club was founded in 1888, its current form and location wasn’t established until multiple clubs banded together in 1912. The St. Paul Curling Club is now the biggest curling club in the US and boasts over 1,200 members.
“Fine. I get it. People like to curl. But come on, it’s not really a sport. I mean, a pregnant lady curled for Canada during the 2010 Olympics for crying out loud!” – While yes, a gestating female was concurrently an Olympics athlete because of the sport, curling falls in line with sports such as golf and bowling. Players curl stones down a sheet of ice, trying to land them close to the center of a target. Scoring is much like bocce ball, where the team with the closest stone to the center of the target scores points, and gets a point for each stone that is closer than their opponents. While not extremely physically demanding, there is still a high level of athletic skill and a bit of physical exertion taking place. You would be surprised at how many people came off of the ice after a two hour match and were sweating and breathing heavily. Curling the rocks might not be the most physically demanding, but players are running down the ice at times, as well as vigorously sweeping away debris and anything else causing surface friction.
While the competition can get intense, it’s clear upon first entering the St. Paul Curling Club that there’s more that goes into curling than just playing the game out on the ice. Because while curling might be fun and exciting while playing, it might be the furthest thing from that when you’re watching it. So behind the glass and off of the ice there’s a whole other world inside of the St. Paul Curling Club. A world of sociable people, camaraderie, and great fun. It seems as if they know that curling might not be the most interesting thing to watch, so why not have some fun in between matches?
The club does the most it can with its facility, with a lively bar/dining area upstairs and a lounge downstairs. Most curlers told us that the bonding and experiences inside the club while not playing are just as great and important as what’s experienced while playing. Because the club has so many members, ice time can be scarce. It makes sense then that teammate bonds must be forged off of the ice, and the club affords every opportunity for that. That same “fun and festive” theme carries over into their Winter Carnival Bonspiel, which has a costume theme every year. This year’s theme was “Saturday Night Live”, and nearly everyone got into costume for it.
Tournaments in all sports are usually very competitive. This wasn’t entirely the case at this particular tournament. Teams were playing to win of course while on the ice, but it’s hard to hold a hard competitive line when you’re dressed up as a Conehead. Nevertheless there was some great curling matches with many games coming down to the last rock thrown. 48 teams competed over three days, with each team playing a minimum of 4 matches. After the matches, most players stayed at the club, meeting teams from around the country and producing a bit of merriment. Along with the entry fee, and this is what really stood out to us while researching this event, teams were required to bring a six pack of beer. You just know that it’s going to be a fun event when a six pack of beer is required to participate.
What’s always been a social game has now been legitimized by the International Olympic Committee. That doesn’t mean that the social aspect has been lost, as we saw over the weekend at the St. Paul Curling Club. In a way that we have yet to see on our journey, the competitive and fun aspects of sports have been blended together in curling. Everyone we met not only knew how to accurately shove a stone over ice to the middle of a target 150 feet away, but also knew how to have a good time.
“OK I’m sold, where can I play?” – If you live in the St. Paul area, head over to http://www.stpaulcurlingclub.org/ for more information. Or you can check out this handy list of curling clubs wherever your neck of the woods may be.
Be sure to check out our FACEBOOK pictures from the event!