Curling is about to become a more visible fixture on the Charlotte sports scene.
Members of the nonprofit Charlotte Curling Association will break ground off Old Statesville Road on April 23 for a $1.8 million curling rink – the first such rink in the region dedicated solely to the sport founded in medieval Scotland.
The 17,000-square-foot building will open by Oct. 1 a quarter-mile off the Sunset Road exit of Interstate 77. It will feature 12,000 square feet of curling – enough for four games at a time, lifelong curler Dave DeFehr said.
The 3.2 acres are on the north side of Old Statesville Road. Because the association needs just more than an acre, it could sell the other 2 acres for restaurants or other retail, he said.
DeFehr, 68, is helping lead the effort with other members of the 120-strong association.
Before moving to Lake Norman in 1991 to open the Troutman plant of his family-run Palliser Furniture, DeFehr was a competitive curler in his native Winnipeg, Canada. The city is known as “the curling capital of the world” for all of its curling clubs and the world stars it’s produced, including Sochi gold medalist Jennifer Jones.
DeFehr, who also opened Davesté Vineyards in Troutman in the mid-2000s with his wife, Ester, said interest in curling skyrocketed in the United States after games were televised from the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.
He said about half of the Charlotte curlers are from Canada and the northern U.S., where curling also is big, while the other men and women are newcomers to the sport.
“There’s no smack-talk when someone messes up a shot,’ ” Charlotte Curling Association President Steve McKee said. “It’s a gentleman’s sport, which makes it an all-inclusive sport.”
“We had over 100 people attend a Learn-to-Curl we held,” DeFehr said.
The association will ultimately need about 250 members to be financially viable as a club, he said. The association hopes to draw members from a 30- to 40-mile radius, including the I-77 and I-85 corridors. Dues are $89 per year.
Charlotte curlers have had to play on ice hockey rinks, currently Extreme Ice Center in Indian Trail.
But ice time for curling at hockey rinks is limited to a couple of hours on Friday nights, and the Zamboni machines that resurface the ice can create ridges that aren’t conducive to curling. Competitors send a 42-pound granite stone down a strip of ice about 150 feet long toward a circular target. The goal is to get as many “rocks” to the center of the circle as possible.
“The levelness of the ice is critical,” McKee said. “Hands down, Extreme Ice did everything they could to help us. They put a $20,000 laser level on the Zamboni.”
The new rink also will enable the club to offer curling to people who are visually impaired or who have other disabilities, McKee said. Youth curling will be offered, as well as community outreach programs.
Two major donors who are members of the association but wish to remain anonymous helped make the project possible, McKee said.
One is putting the building up and leasing it back to the club on a lease-to-own basis at less than cost. The other donor contributed $400,000 – $200,000 as a loan due in 10 years and $200,000 as a donation.
The club raised an additional $125,000, including $40,000 from members of the U.S. Curling Association nationwide.
McKee sees the Charlotte Curling Association reaching 250 members within two years, and 350 to 400 eventually. He and his wife, Carol, Googled the sport after watching the Vancouver games from their home in Stallings. They love the sport’s congeniality, and the camaraderie it breeds.
“If she was in a foreign country and lost her passport,” Steve McKee said of his wife, “she’d go to a curling club for help before she went to the embassy.”