TEMPE, Ariz. — With the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia in full swing, many television viewers have become fascinated by the intricate, ice-based sport of curling. A local curling club is hoping to see an Olympic boost, just as it opens Arizona’s first dedicated curling ice rink.
The Coyotes Curling Club has been in the Valley for more than 10 years, sharing the ice at Scottsdale’s Ice Den, but the club will soon have a rink of its own in Tempe, between State Route 143 and South 52nd Street, south of West University Drive.
The club’s board of directors think that Olympic boost in interest will be important for the club to make back its nearly $500,000 investment in the rink, and it’s working to cultivate it in unique ways.
“We started this project just before Thanksgiving and we’ve had a couple delays in opening it. We wanted to be open Jan. 1, but now it’s a little later than that,” said Darryl Horsman, vice-president of the club. “We have so much demand for curling in the Valley and especially now with the Olympics.”
The new 60,000-square foot facility will boast four ice slabs for play, a warm room, changing room and a pro shop.
Horsman said the opening is tentatively set for Saturday, Feb. 22, but due to a delay from the club’s glass manufacturer, it could be pushed back to the Feb. 28 or 29.
Horsman said he hopes opening while the Winter Olympics are ongoing could help garner more interest in the sport. Besides providing a rink for curling clubs, professional training and enthusiasts, the club’s goal is to make the sport accessible to everyone.
“We’ve prided ourselves over the last decade to make sure we are open to everybody,” he said. “We will take the newest and rookie-est person and work with them to get them up and running, so they can have a level of enjoyment of the game, and we’ll take the guy that’s been curling for 40 years.”
Having a stable building will help the club provide more open sessions, league play and regular curling events, rather than the one night a week schedule the club was previously limited to at the Ice Den, Horsman said.
“We were at sort of a watershed point where we had to either be OK with one night a week on hockey ice or take curling in the Valley up to the next level,” he said.
Moving to that new level has required a big investment, though, and the club is expecting the rink’s ability to consistently offer curling to professionals and amateurs alike will not only cover the base investment but also expand the sport.
Originally, the club was seeking to raise $600,000 to put into the new facility, but so far it is shy of that mark.
“Our target, when we first started, was $600,000, and that would make this place a Mecca, a shining jewel of curling in the desert,” he said. “As it is now, with the $450,000, we’re still actively fundraising and we are a 501(c)3 with the IRS, so all the donations can be tax-free.”
The club has relied extensively on its members, the community and business sponsors for funding, but Horsman said it has also been selling bonds at a return of 5 percent over 10 years.
“With the amount of curling that we’ll be able to provide here, we forecast that within two to three years we should be seeing some very positive numbers and be back in the black,” he said. “We don’t have a big line of credit. We wanted, as soon as we open the door, not to have a lot of outstanding debt. All we wanted to do was to have any debt to pay back our people who bought the bonds.”
Horsman did not have the exact number but said the club has sold between 15 and 20 $5,000 bonds.
He added that the club has also been relying on members for “sweat equity” to help build the new rink.
“A lot of us had to dust off the old tool pouch and dig out our tools,” he said. “I venture to guess we’ve probably saved over $100,000 in just sweat equity doing this ourselves.”
Currently, the club has 110 members, with about 80 of those actively involved, and Horsman said it expects that number to triple with the new rink.
“Once we have a (2 p.m.) ice time, an after-school program, a Sunday morning before your tee-time curling time, we expect to be at 300 to 400 club members easily within the first year and a half,” he said.
Beside after school programs and leagues, the club will offer, “learn to curl” classes for beginners to try out the sport.
The classes run at $30 per person and offer 45-minutes of off-ice tutorials to learn about the sport, then two hours of on-ice instruction and game play.
Much like how a bowling alley provides the bowling balls and shoes, the curling club will also provide everything needed to curl.
“The curling club provides all the sliders that you need to slide on the ice, provides you all the brooms and obviously all the rocks and all the equipment,” he said. “So all you need to do is show up in a clean pair of running shoes.”
Carroll Huntress has been a Coyotes Curling Club member for most of its 10-year run and said he hopes the new rink will help grow the sport in the Valley and expose the sport to those who have never tried it.
“Once you get that curling fever, it’s really hard to get rid of it,” he said.
Huntress added that having dedicated curling ice will make the experience much better for members and could attract more professional curling organizations to training at the rink.
“We here at the curling club never want to see another Zamboni,” he said. “We can dedicate ourselves to getting better and bringing in a whole new group of new curlers and the curlers that wouldn’t come up to the Ice Den because the ice was so erratic.”
Sharing the ice with ice hockey and figure skaters makes for an uneven surface, which can affect the way a stone will behave when it is thrown down the ice, Huntress said. That is a problem the club can rectify by having the ice surface under its control.
Co-founder of the club Karen Tait said after the club opens, it has several events lined up for the coming months, called bonspiels.
“The one we’ve had every year for 10 years is April 10 to 13, and that’s where we have teams from all over come,” she said.
Professional teams from around the country and Canada come to the event for a three-day curling extravaganza.
“We have 32 teams of four, so we have 128 people coming for that, so they’ll be lots of good curling to watch,” Tait said.
She said last year the rink filled with people in four hours, and it is free to come watch the bonspiel.
While the initial investment has been steep, Tait and Horsman said the visibility and profile of the new rink with help them create a broad interest in curling, and the clubs 10-year history has helped provide a measure of comfort for those who have invested in the project.
“We’ve been in the Valley 11 years now. It’s not as if we’re just opening up a curling club and have to work on that branding,” Horsman said. “We’ve been here and people know about us, so all we have to do now is stick to the plan.”