The Story of Curling

WRITTEN BY TENLEE LUND

Watch a curling game in Minnesota around 1905. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society

THE SPORT OF CURLING CAN BE TRACED BACK TO SCOTLAND IN THE MID-1500s. During those long, dark winters, men came up with this diversion to take them outdoors for a bit of friendly competition. These days women enjoy it, too.

When the ice was safe enough to walk on, people started sliding rocks from one end of a lane to the other, aiming to land their rock closest to a predetermined goal. According to the World Curling Federation’s (WCF) website, worldcurling.org, the first recorded competition dates back to 1540 — and the sport of curling was born.

As the sport became more popular it spread internationally, with the Scots taking it to cold climates wherever they emigrated. That included the northern tier of the United States. According to the WCF, by the 1800s there were curling clubs in the U.S., Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, and New Zealand.

A photograph taken of the competition on ice during the 1976 World Silver Broom Curling Championships held in Duluth. (Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society)
Len Dufiel, St. Paul, plays a game of curling in about 1910. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society
Members of the St. Paul Curling Club posed for a photo on the ice about 1910. Photos courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society

One of the earlier clubs was formed in Minnesota. The Nushka Curling Club, which later became the St. Paul Curling Club, dates back to Dec. 21, 1885. According to the St. Paul club website, stpaulcurlingclub.org, the first curling match in St. Paul was held on the Mississippi River near Raspberry Island on Christmas Day 1885.

In 1912 the St. Paul Curling Club officially came into being, when it incorporated and opened its clubhouse on Selby Avenue. Today it is “the largest curling club in the country” with more than 1,200 members.

As the sport gained international status, standardized rules had to replace the friendly sliding of rocks across natural outdoor ice. Today the stones, also called rocks, are all standardized, being made of forty-two pounds of special granite mined mainly on Ailsa Craig, an island off the coast of Scotland. Each stone measures thirty-six inches around and 4.5 inches high. The lanes, or “sheets,” measure 150 by 16.5 feet with a center hole, or “tee,” chiseled inside a pattern of concentric circles, called the “house,” at each end.

The game itself resembles a combination of shuffleboard and horseshoes. Teams consist of four people, each of whom delivers a stone down the sheet, alternating with their opponents. The goal is to have your team’s stones closest to the tee.

“It’s like chess on ice,” says Mary Jo Hamilton, chairman of the board for the Brainerd Lakes Curling Club, explaining the strategy involved in coordinating the play of all four team members.

The Lead delivers the first two stones. The Skip stands at the opposite end, indicating where he or she would like the stones to end up at that end of the sheet.

Two Sweepers perform the iconic duty of “sweeping vigorously with special brooms right in front of the rock as it’s traveling down the ice toward the house.” As Hamilton explains, “If you’re really good at sweeping, which means fast and a lot of pressure on the broom, you can make the stone go ten to twelve feet farther.”

Also, as the stone slows down it starts to curl, hence the name of the sport. “But sweeping can take some of the curl out of it. If you see the rock isn’t going to end up where you want it, you start sweeping.”


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