Prior to 2014, Traverse City didn’t have a single official curling club – much less a dedicated facility for the winter Olympic sport. Just five years later, the sport has exploded in popularity locally, spawning two official clubs and plans to open two separate curling facilities in the region.
The first facility will open its doors at the end of April at 172 West Burdickville Road in the heart of Maple City. Two couples – Joey and Jen Reutter and David and Theresa Gersenson – have partnered up to launch the Broomstack Kitchen & Taphouse in the former historic Maple City schoolhouse. The 17-acre property is home to a newly opened 87-seat restaurant offering 20 beer taps, a full bar, and a menu highlighting grass-fed burgers and Sicilian-style pizza.
Next door to Broomstack, construction is underway on a connected curling facility (pictured) that will be home to the newly formed Leelanau Curling Club. The facility, which will feature two 150-foot-long sheets of ice, will allow up to eight curlers to play per sheet during reserved hours.
Year-round league play, novice and junior curling, group/corporate events, and learn-to-curl instructional sessions are all also planned. The close proximity of the two businesses will allow players to gather at Broomstack for a drink or meal after games – a curling social tradition called “broomstacking,” from which the restaurant derives its name – and for restaurant visitors to watch the curling action and even join in for impromptu play.
David Gersenson says he believes the facility will be the first privately-owned curling rink in the country. “Usually they are member-owned, or city-owned, or run by a nonprofit,” he says.
“I’ve invested my life savings into this property completely, because I’m following my heart 100 percent.” Gersenson and Joey Reutter are both recent converts to the sport, in which teams slide stones across a sheet of ice toward a target area of concentric circles to score points, using brooms to sweep the ice in the stone’s path to control its speed and direction.
Both men say they immediately fell in love with curling when they started playing a few years ago, citing the ease of learning to play, the game’s appeal to a wide variety of ages, its low cost barrier (new players need only bring a clean pair of tennis shoes), and the camaraderie among players.
“Curling is the only thing I can do where I’m 100 percent focused on that activity,” says Gersenson. “It’s a lot of fun. There aren’t a lot of sports you can play as you get older…it’s taxing on the body. This is a sport that’s easy on the body. Big or small, young or old, athletic or arthritic, anybody can curl.” Reutter agrees.
“I have a lot of fun playing the game,” he says. “But I really like being with the people, when everybody is gathered together around the table enjoying a beverage and talking after. That for me is my favorite part.”
The partners have a long-term vision for the property that includes not only the restaurant and curling rink but a potential event space, an outdoor beer garden, and a trail system. “We’re building a community center here,” Gersenson says.
But offering curling club members – who will be able to officially join the program in the next 2-3 weeks – a dedicated curling space with ice not torn up by hockey or figure skating is the group’s immediate priority. “It’s hard to play the true game of curling on arena ice,” says Gersenson. “Once I played on dedicated ice, I made it my mission to curl on dedicated ice as much as possible.”
Both Gersenson and Reutter learned to curl at Traverse City Curling Club – the local pioneer of the sport, and an organization also on the hunt for its own dedicated facility. Don Piche launched the club in 2014 without ever even having played the sport, having enjoyed watching Olympic curling and deciding to host a curling open house at Centre Ice Arena with the help of clubs from around the state.
More than 500 people showed up to watch curling demonstration games and practice the game on the ice. “And that was that,” Piche laughs. “We spent the whole summer organizing a league and started that fall.” The group launched with 40-50 members; today, the TC Curling Club is an official nonprofit with 153 members.
The club, which has to compete for playing time with hockey and figure skating at Centre Ice Arena, only has ice access three nights a week at 8:30pm – providing enough slots for 120 players. With more members than available spots, competition for ice time is fierce; the late-night hours also make it difficult for youth and senior players to play.
TC Curling Club Board President Cara Colburn – Piche’s sister – says the club has reached the tipping point where it can now justify looking for its own facility. “I was waiting to see the growth of the club get to this point,” she says, “and that was when I decided it was time to make a big switch in the board structure and focus on getting dedicated ice.”
TC Curling Club is still in the early stages of its search process for a new facility, according to Colburn, conducting financial feasibility studies and reviewing options that range from buying vacant land and constructing a new facility to renovating an existing building. But the group has already attracted the support of a key partner – Casey Cowell’s capital venture firm Boomerang Catapult.
“They’re advising us, helping us look around (at properties), and structuring ourselves for success,” Colburn says. “They see the potential of the membership and the sport, how it’s a bubble that’s about to burst open across the country.”
TC Curling Club’s growth has been so rapid it’s attracted national as well as local attention. On April 26-28, the club will host the 2019 Cherry Bombspiel, a three-day curling tournament that will bring 32 four-person teams – only four of which are from Traverse City, with the remaining 28 teams coming from across the U.S. and Canada – to compete at Centre Ice Arena. Registration for the event sold out in seven minutes, according to Piche.
Among the players competing are two Olympian curlers, including Debbie McCormick and 2018 U.S. gold winner Tyler George. The tournament is open for free to spectators, who will have a chance to meet the Olympians and get autographs and selfies with the athletes.
Both the CEO and chairman of the U.S. Curling Association are also traveling to Traverse City for the event. “They want to see what’s happening here,” says Piche.
The presence of Olympians at a Traverse City curling event reflects Piche’s long-term goal for his club. “We want to see an Olympian come out of Traverse City,” he says, noting one club member has already been selected to participate in the Paralympic curling development program. “There aren’t many (curling players in the Olympics), so we believe it can happen.”