Curling is a sport that started in Scotland in the 16th century. It is a game that combines skill, precision and strategy. It is played by teams consisting of two players (mixed doubles) or four (male and female), with the ultimate goal of placing the granite stones (with about 20kg), which they throw along the ice rink (with 45m of length), closer to the circular target in relation to the stones thrown by the opposing team.
Curling was created by the people, and has always belonged — in Scotland at least — absolutely to the people. It has never been developed into a scientific exhibition for the benefit of spectators. It has never been invaded by professionalism, and the interest that it calls forth does not depend upon seeing it played, or reading newspaper reports. It rests upon the village clubs, the parish matches, and the great bonspiels, which are not made up of picked champions of a county or district, but of the rank and file of players representative of almost every parish.
There has been a vast development of curling in the last fifty years in England, Canada, Switzerland, New Zealand, and elsewhere, and in these new homes, and under new conditions its character has often undergone a change, but in Scotland curling is still, as it has always been, the game of the working man.
There are many reasons why it should he so. It is, in the first place, exceedingly cheap and simple. The player requires nothing but his stones, which he probably inherits from his father curling stones seldom break, and never wear out — and a broom, which he can generally find behind the door, or cut for himself from the hillside. His club subscription may be anything from one shilling to half a crown. And all that remains is to gather eight players together and find a sheet of water fifty yards in length.
There are few Scottish parishes without a pond or lake of some sort. Then again he need not neglect his work to play. A hard frost in the country districts puts a stop to nearly all outdoor work. Ploughing, draining, dying, and building in all its forms are suspended, and farmers are able to find time for all that they have to do in this dead season during the morning or evening, and to take three hours in the middle of the day for their game. There are no doubt many — carpenters, blacksmiths and others — who have no good reason for leaving their work, but they are also engulfed in the wave of enthusiasm which comes with the fall in the thermometer.
Curling is an institution and a tradition. A spell of frost is at the best a rare event, and employers as well as labourers are generally willing to make the most of the ice when it is there, and try to overtake neglected duties when the thaw comes. The secretary of the curling club for the time being rules the parish with an absolute authority.
Such is the game in Scotland — the ruling passion in the lives of thousands of working men, and eagerly adopted by many who are in a better position to pick and choose their pastimes. But the game no longer belongs to Scotland alone. It has spread in the last century far and wide, and has found a footing where- ever ice exists and a few Scotchmen have been able to come together and form the nucleus of a club.
At home the curler is labouring always under severe disadvantages. He is completely dependent upon the freaks of a miserable climate. There are seasons when he cannot play at all ; and ice is such a variable factor that many great matches must be played in a thaw and under wretched conditions.
At the best he gets perhaps a week or two of decent ice in the year, and dare never look more than a day ahead with any confidence, while there is no season without its list of broken engagements and unfinished games. He must often cast longing eyes to Switzer- land and to Canada, where the game is played daily under ideal conditions and on glorious ice. It has been developed there to an infinitely delicate science far beyond what is possible on the rough Scotch rinks.
There are now many strong clubs in Switzerland, where the game was introduced about the year 1870, and in the leading Alpine resorts it may be seen any day throughout the winter season. The players are almost entirely Anglo-Swiss, and the artificial rinks on which they play usually belong to the leading hotels. The native Swiss have not yet seriously taken up the game, probably because ice in a land where every- thing is smothered beneath feet of snow is a highly expensive luxury.
But by far the greatest curling country is Canada, and the curling capital of Canada, and therefore of the world, is Winnipeg. There is one little peculiarity of the game of curling, one among many points in which it is unique. It is, so far as I know, the only great outdoor game that is played without a ball.