First curling center in the Carolinas debuts Saturday in Charlotte

The Carolinas’ first center dedicated to curling will open to the public Saturday with the playing of bagpipes and free lessons for those who’d like to learn the sport founded in medieval Scotland.

The new $1.8 million, 17,000-square-foot building is a quarter-mile off the Sunset Road exit of Interstate 77, on the north side of Old Statesville Road in north Charlotte. Construction started in April, and the center has been open to the 80-some members of the Charlotte Curling Association since November.

The grand opening from 1 to 4 p.m. will begin with the curling tradition of a bagpiper leading guests into the building. Visitors can tour the center, watch curlers in action and push a curling stone down the ice toward a circular target.

The building features 12,000 square feet of curling – enough for four games at a time.

A curling center in the Raleigh-Durham area is scheduled to open in about a month.

Charlotte curlers have had to play on ice hockey rinks, most recently 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.

Lasers were used to level the concrete pad beneath the surface of the ice at the new center. “What’s really important in curling is that the ice is level and uniform,” Charlotte Curling Association President Steve McKee said.

Curling grew in popularity in the United States after viewers watched the sport on TV during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Competitors send the granite stone down a strip of ice about 150 feet long toward the circular target. The goal is to get as many “rocks” to the center of the circle as possible.

Its inclusiveness is what’s great about the sport, McKee said. On Thursday morning, curlers at the building were of all ages and experience levels, except for teenage and younger curlers who were in school.

The building also enables the club to offer curling to people who are visually impaired or who have other disabilities, McKee said. The club recently received a $6,000 grant from a U.S. Curling Association fund to install a lift so curlers with mobility challenges can access the ice surface.

Looking out to the players pushing stones and “sweeping” the ice with “brooms” to make the stones go faster, McKee said, “This is like a dream come true to have our own ice. Some curling clubs have existed for 30 or 40 years and don’t have their own ice to play on.”