Ottawa Hunt Club benefitting from exemplary Adult Learn to Curl program

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Ottawa Hunt Club benefitting from exemplary Adult Learn to Curl program


The development and application of the Adult Learn to Curl “ALTC” program has been a savior for many curling clubs, particularly across Ontario.  With the impacts brought about from Covid, the rising financial challenges for curling clubs and the increase in activities competing for people’s time and money, curling has been under tremendous stress for the last decade or more and unfortunately, slipping in popularity.

The days of simply operating curling clubs at the status quo are no more.  Revenues and memberships have been declining and the rate of curling club failures are climbing.  Something needed to be done to inject new life into a tired operating model.  This is where the introduction of the Adult Learn to Curl program filled a critical need and came about just at the right time. 

The ALTC program was originally conceived and developed in the Ottawa Valley by Hall of Fame curler and coach Earle Morris and has continually grown in acceptance and popularity across the country since its introduction in the 2007-08 season.  Since then, the results of the ALTC rollout across Canada has proven itself to be a very effective tool for getting adults on the ice and keeping them there, with the effect of: i) growing memberships in clubs that adopt the program; ii) elevating the level of enjoyment among curlers, both old and new; iii) contributing to the growth in curling across Canada and iv) introducing spinoff benefits that come from an enlarged base of curlers.


The Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club “OHGC” is one of the most prestigious and celebrated golf clubs in Canada where numerous national championships had been held over the years.  Widely known for its elite golf facility, the Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club is also home to a first class 6-sheet curling facility.  In and around 2010, the problem facing the club was that the curling facility was woefully underutilized and perceived to be a burden on the club’s financial and human resources.  Without a careful examination and appropriate response, the facility may well have been closed for good.

At that time, the Ottawa Hunt Club had but a small contingent of curling members (approximately 175 members); which is generally insufficient to support a 6-sheet curling club.  To that end, it was imperative to rejuvenate the curling program with the prime objective of substantially growing its membership or risk the loss of the curling facility altogether.  

During this same period of time, curlers witnessed the closures of several curling clubs across Canada, most notably in the Greater Toronto Area “GTA” with the closing of the sheets of ice at the Scarborough Golf & Country Club, the Weston Golf & Country Club, St. George’s Golf and Country Club and the Bayview Golf and Country Club. 

While not immune from the trend, Ottawa faired better than most areas in the province.  Maybe due to its harsh winters or its longstanding curling tradition, but curling in Ottawa has long been a vibrant sport and continued to be strong despite some setbacks.  Fortunately, Ottawa has only seen a very small net reduction in the number of sheets of ice in the region, since 2000.  What was most encouraging for this region was the construction of two new, state-of-the-art curling facilities (i.e., Granite and City View) within this same time period.

Despite the general success in the Ottawa Valley area, private golf and country clubs had a unique set of challenges in order to justify the expense of a curling facility and the on-going operations to their broader membership.  Therefore, without significant and sustained growth in curling programs, it is safe to assume that curling services would continue to be closely examined by the respective Boards of Directors and if they were not making a significant contribution to the club’s bottom line, may well have faced the decision to shut them down.  The OHGC began moving in this direction.   However, with the tenacity of a few member curlers who had a vision for curling and with a few more member curlers willing to roll up their sleeves in order to realize this vision, OHGC Curling 2.0 was launched.

Key Decisions:

1. Selection of Program Designer:

In 2010, the OHGC sought out the advice of Earle Morris and prepared to launch an Adult Learn to Curl program in the 2011 season in an effort to resuscitate the curling program and put it on a path to growth.

Rationale: At that time, Earle Morris had an impeccable reputation for his coaching abilities, and he was embarking on a new concept “Learn to Curl” designed to encourage participation at all ages and in a manner that revolutionized teaching the game.  

2. Program Duration: 2-year program

Leveraging Earle Morris’s advice and the Curling Canada Adult Learn to Curl guide, the OHGC quickly learned that the suggested 8-week ALTC program did not necessarily meet all of their needs or that of potential OHGC members. For most ALTC programs, the instructional component is generally less than half of a season long and afterwards, the new curlers are integrated into the regular leagues, assuming there is ample space available. The OHGC opted to design and build a full 2-year ALTC program that specifically met the curlers’ needs and was sufficiently detailed to provide the necessary training for the sport.

Rationale: At the OHGC, we learned from the ALTC curlers that a brief training session (i.e., 8-12 weeks) did not meet the expectations of our new curlers. We were told time and time again, that despite the 8-week training program, the curlers did not feel comfortable/confident and were not ready to move into regular play with the other seasoned curlers. This feeling was so strong that we recognized that a disproportionate number of new curlers would simply leaving the club/sport after the 8 weeks.  Based on this feedback, the OHGC responded by designing and introducing a full 2-year LTC program.

3. Key elements of the 2-year Program:

In year 1, the new curlers spend a majority of their time on the ice with qualified instructors, learning the proper technical skills that make them sound curlers. Up until the Christmas break, a large part of their instruction is dedicated to skills development (i.e., set-up, balance and line of delivery). After the break, on ice-coaching and technical instruction is reinforced during regular play. 

In year 2, the emphasis changes to: i) fault detection and correction of technical skills; and ii) an introduction to basic curling strategy. In this year, the curlers are allowed to experience playing all positions and experiencing a wide variety of situations. Year 2 curlers are also invited to actively join to play in the various leagues and take advantage of practice ice.

4. Operate the ALTC program as a long-term investment:

Early in the program’s life, it became clear that offering high caliber instruction/instructors was a hallmark of the OHGC’s design.  To this end, many experienced curlers and formally trained coaches were actively recruited to support the program.  At a minimum, one experienced coach would be assigned to a maximum of 8 students, however, often there is an assistant on each sheet of ice to support the coach.

Each of the instructors is provided with a daily stipend that is commensurate with their level of coaching experience and value to the program. The payment for service better ensures that the club is attracting qualified individuals and enhances the level of retention, year over year. While the program still generates ample membership revenue for the club, the real goal is long-term growth and converting the ALTC members into fully privileged members. 

Memberships dues aside, in a survey conducted by the club, it was found that what the average new ALTC spends on food and beverage significantly exceeds that of most club members. But there’s more to this story. After operating the ALTC program for a few short years, we noted an important but unexpected side benefit. The new curlers to the club became our most eager and productive volunteers. In a period when curling was facing ‘volunteer fatigue’, the injection of this new high-energy blood was literally the best shot in the arm a curling club could wish for. 

In the short period of time, the OHGC hosted 4 adult national curling championships. This hosting commitment necessitated a large contingent of volunteers to assist in the running of these events and the tasks included scoring, timing, transportation, team liaison, among several other responsibilities. The ALTC members were overwhelmingly represented and many now sit on the OHGC curling committee and other committees of the Board of Directors. It became obvious that looking at the ALTC program should not be viewed as a discreet annual effort but as a longer-term investment for the club that pays dividends for many years to come.    

5. Introduce New Programs to Promote the Understanding and Abilities of Member Curlers:

Routinely, the OHGC monitors the health of the program to ensure the needs of these developing curlers are being met and if not, look for supplemental activities to fill the gap. I have a particular philosophy when teaching this game. First, you teach them the right skills to play the game and they are excited. Secondly, provide them with the rules to understand the boundaries of the game. Now, they feel more empowered and are wanting to test themselves and their abilities. Finally, educate them on the myriad of strategies of the game and they fall completely in love with the sport. If you can provide them with all the necessary tools for them to be successful on the ice, these curlers will be loyal and grateful.  

At the OHGC, to supplement the 2-year ALTC program, we also developed an 8 week “introduction to curling strategy” course. While this was targeted toward the graduating ALTC curlers, the club made it open to any member wishing to better understand strategy.

The 8-week course broke-down the curling game into 3 parts: i) the early ends 1 & 2; ii) the middle ends 3-6; and iii) the final ends 7 & 8; and discuss the various strategies for each end. The consolidation of these discussions is a game strategy for the curler/team.  However, curling is not simply a set of strategies, it is also about team dynamics. To this end, we also devote time to discussing the key elements of a successful curling team including: communications (on and off the ice); relaxation and mental toughness; tolerance on shots and team dynamics. Over a three-year period, we had slightly more that 100 member curlers take this program.

Weekly, students were provided a 60-minute lecture on the particular topic, followed by a 60-minute on-ice practice to reinforce the lesson plan just provided. This provided the curlers with the opportunity to execute against the lesson-plan; see how easy or difficult the proposed end-strategy is; and ask questions.

6. Advertising and Promotion of the Program:

At the onset of introducing the ALTC program at OHGC, we adopted a campaign of newspaper advertisements and mail drops in specific neighbourhoods in close proximity to the OHGC to attract new participants. These methods were reasonably successful attracting some 40-50 curlers each of those early years but not without cost.  By the 4th or 5th year of operation, we began noticing that many of our newest curlers were being introduced to the program from current curlers or recent graduates of the ALTC program. Soon thereafter, we dispensed with the advertising expense and promoted “word-of-mouth” to attract new curlers; which continues to this day. The key to generating this level of success is to ensure that your program is of the highest quality and delivering against all of the needs of your curlers.

Member Efforts Required:

While the Curling Manager is the overall administrator/convenor for the program, the actual operations of the program are run largely by paid coaches. The composition of the coaches is made up of members from the OHGC but also neighbouring clubs. In the end, this program is a net revenue generator for the club and does not pose a drain on the club’s stable of volunteers.

Additional Benefits from Growth:

The growth solely attributable to the ALTC program has brought about many unanticipated benefits to the club and the existing members, namely:

• Due to the increased numbers, new daytime and evening leagues have been formed and existing curlers have had a greater opportunity to play. The new leagues include: mixed doubles, triples and an expanded men’s league to multiple nights.

• The OHGC has hosted several recent national championships including Mixed Doubles, Seniors and the Club Championships. A high percentage of the volunteers were drawn from the ranks of the recent ALTC graduates.

• The financial impact to the club’s food and beverage service and the pro shop has exceeded all expectations and revenues continue to grow, as the new members utilize the club’s services (i.e., restaurant, banquet, bar) on a 12-month basis.

Generally speaking, the unexpected side benefit has been that these new curlers become your most eager and productive volunteers at the club. We combatted ‘volunteer fatigue’ with new blood that is both enthusiastic and contagious to the existing membership.

A Personal Account: Doug Kreviazuk

Some 13 years ago, the OHGC membership levels were sitting around 175 curlers. At the beginning of the 2023/24 season, membership had grown to 405. Not surprisingly, when you survey the various leagues at the club (i.e., men’s, ladies, mixed, doubles, etc.), more than half of the participants are graduates of the ALTC program over the past 10 years. 

To say the ALTC has been a success would be an understatement. Despite the impact from Covid, the demand for the ALTC program has been remarkable:

* In 2018, there were 89 ALTC and an additional 64 in the Strategy course.

In a survey of ALTC graduates, we have pegged our level of retention among new curlers to be about 55% after 5 years (Note: prior to 2023, a curler was considered fully privileged after 5 years and dues reach their peak.  Going forward, this moves to 3 years). This statistic should not be interpreted as 45% of the curlers leave the sport.  In fact, we are aware that a good number of these curlers go on to join other clubs either in their neighbourhood or where their friends belong.  Meaning that the vast majority of new curlers that walk into the OHGC on that first day continue to enjoy this sport, which is really the overall goal. 

The increase in memberships rejuvenated all of the men, ladies and mixed leagues and afforded the club the luxury to attempt other services to be introduced like mixed doubles, triples and mentor leagues for the novice curlers.  Up until 2015, the OHGC operated 5 days/week (closed Sunday and Monday) in the winter months.  The underutilization of the ice led to further discontentment with the curling program and its associated cost.

About that time, it became the goal of the Club’s Strategic Planning Committee to grow the membership to a point that where the ice was being fully utilized for 6 days, then ultimately 7 days/week.  Growth however was viewed as difficult because we were talking about organic growth (i.e., bringing in brand new curlers) as opposed to cannibalizing the leagues from neighbouring curling clubs.  This was seen as a tall order and the only possible was to achieve the desired growth was to truly invest in an Adult Learn to Curl program that was resetting the bar for success. 

Thanks to the commitment of the Curling Manager and the ongoing support from the OHGC Board of Directors, the ALTC program took shape and we boast about its success at every opportunity.  At present, the curling club is open 7 days a week and the leagues are thriving.

To complement the club’s management, a qualified and committed team of instructors ensure that we are delivering a high-quality program and when the need arises, are amending the program to embrace continual improvements to reflect technical, skill-level and rule changes.

Concluding Remarks:

ALTC is an overall success story. The key to its success has always been the desire and commitment of a few member curlers to take on this task. The reality is, it is not a great deal of effort and the personal rewards are countless, (i.e., the contribution to the club and the membership; meeting and becoming friends with a new cast of wonderful curlers each year; and working with individuals that are genuinely falling in love with this sport).

For me, this sport has given so much to me and my entire family, it is a small price to pay to return the favour and help grow the sport for the benefit of your club and curling generally. I encourage you to get involved and contact me should you have any questions at

View the complete Adult Learn to Curl video below for more information on starting your own program.