February 19, 2009

The ABCs of Curling - G

illum_g is for Grand Match, an outdoor curling Bonspiel - sometimes referred to as "The Bonspiel" - that is held periodically in Scotland. The Grand Match has traditionally been a match between the North and South of Scotland, and often attracted several hundred teams. As curling was originally played on frozen rivers, there was not enough room to hold large scale events. Tournaments featuring more than a handful of teams required more sheets of ice in order to be played in a reasonable amount of time. A Bonspiel the size of a Grand Match required a frozen lake, or loch, or very large pond.

Winters in the British Isles are relatively mild, tempered as they are by the Gulf Stream, and large bodies of water there freeze over completely only on rare occasions. Not only must a lake or pond freeze over completely, it must freeze to a depth of at least seven inches in order to support the thousands of curlers and curling stones a Grand Match will attract. This happens so infrequently in Scotland that the Grand Match has only been played 133 times since 1847, and only five times since 1929.

Some sources say it has been played 138 times, but on five of those occasions, it was played on indoor ice rinks in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and The Royal Caledonian Curling Club, the world governing body of curling, does not recognize the indoor competitions as having been official Grand Matches.

The format of the Grand Match is such that an equal number of northern and southern teams play a single game against each other, with the winner being the side with the highest aggregate score. Play is timed rather than a fixed number of ends, with a shotgun start at 11:30AM, and a shotgun finish at 2:30PM. Teams are expected to bring their own rocks, brooms, and a crampit (an iron plate with spikes on the bottom on which to stand while delivering the rock).

The Grand Match was last played in 1979. Since that time, no winter in Scotland has been sufficiently cold enough for any loch or lake to freeze solid enough for play. Still, the RCCC plans the event, takes entries, and makes a draw every year...just in case. In the event that the chosen venue (usually the Lake of Menteith) freezes adequately, the call will go out, and curlers across Scotland are expected to drop everything, and attend. The rules state that any team that registers for the event at the beginning of the season, and fails to appear at the match when it is called, will be held responsible for the travelling expenses of their scheduled opponent.

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