In celebration of its 350th birthday, Scotland’s Kinross Curling Club hosted a tournament – or, in traditional curling terms, bonspiel – this September, inviting teams from each participant nation’s oldest curling club. The members of the 173-year-old Milwaukee Curling Club got the call to rep the United States.
After a string of wins, McLellan missed his shot, ending his team’s run in the semifinals. But McLellan, 33, had to smile at the revelation that the world over, curlers are always going to act, well, like curlers. “Just the friendliest people,” he says. “Really nice, really outgoing.”
The three dozen or so newbies waddling across the ice had signed up for the day’s second Curling 101 class, evidence of the club still riding the post-Winter Olympics bump – a now routine spike in community interest that occurs every four years.
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The key to maintaining these new club members, veterans explained, is turning the sport into an event equal parts social and athletic. With weeknight adult leagues spanning all levels of talent and experience, it’s easy to sketch curling as a wintery, team-based cousin to bowling. Though true enthusiasts insist it’s much more.
Under the stewardship of President Jeff Steffek, the club continues to host postgame, inter-team hangout sessions. After matches, the four-person teams that just faced off sit down together over beer and potluck grub to discuss their match, their lives and their shared love of curling.
“This is a club. It’s not something where you come in, play your game and leave,” Steffek says. “If you observe the tables after the game, you won’t be able to tell who won or lost. It’s very friendly, and very sportsmanlike.”
For the roughly 300-person club, that’s what makes curling more than just a weird winter sport that’s fun to watch every four years.