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Fate of Idylwylde curling to be decided this month

The end result might be a foregone conclusion but still the debate rages on.

The fate of curling at the Idylwylde Golf & Country Club will be put to a vote on July 27th, with club shareholders set to decide if the space currently allocated to the northern winter tradition could better be served with other options.

This in spite of the fact that the Idylwylde, at the junior and youth curling ranks specifically, have enjoyed more success in the past twenty years than only a tiny handful of groups in the country.

As most might suspect, however, this issue in many ways centers around dollars and cents far more than any general goodwill that might be generated from the national achievements of club curlers.

"The conversation we are having at the club level is not a golf versus curling question at all - it's not about that," stressed Tom Arnott, General Manager and Chief Operating Officer at the Idylwylde.

"It's more about a revenue generation issue."

A year ago or so, Arnott was asked by the board to provide a comprehensive 10-year analysis of the winter operations. And while it is true that concerns over the viability of curling have been raised before, this study spotlighted information on a whole new level.

"It showed that when you factor in indirect expenses related to winter operations, curling has lost, on average, $44,000 a year - which doesn't include food and beverage, because those will be there regardless," said Arnott.

While the numbers can be contentious, they are not necessarily at the essence of what the curlers are finding most frustrating.

"Those things have never been calculated before, at least not to that detail," noted board member Amanda Gates, a young woman with an impressive resume of appearances at Scotties and other Canadian championships.

"You are just bringing this forward and not giving us a chance to fix it."

While she absolutely acknowledges prior discussions involving the sport that she loves, Gates questions the fact that what are apparently annual losses are only now being highlighted to this extent.

"The board is responsible for approving the curling membership rates each and every year," she noted. "I have to assume that as a board member, you are bringing me numbers that are sufficient to cover all of the expenses."

A huge swing factor is the inclusion of the indirect costs which have not been incoporated previously.

"There are a lot of expenses outside of the direct curling expenses that are attributable to curling and have been fully subsidized by golf," stated Arnott, citing expenses ranging from the depreciation of a tractor that services the property year round, to locker room maintenance and costs related to running two heaters on the roof.

"Curling has to carry its own weight."

According to Arnott, that would mean that curling rates would more than double just to break even, an increase that he believes the curlers have little appetite to swallow.

Gates and others do not argue the fundamental business principles behind the notion of indirect costs. While the cost distribution could be open to debate, her larger argument is the leap to then finding that there is no reasonable remedy to the situation.

"If this is what we have to charge, and that forces curlers to leave, then I suppose that we shouldn't have curling," she suggested. "But we've never even tried that."

"I think the curlers just want a chance to try and see if we can make this work."

Additionally, as long-time curler and Idylwylde shareholder Mike Mahaffy noted, one cannot lose site of the history which led to the introduction of curling in the first place.

A golf only facility through the better part of the first 50 years of the existence of the Walford Road property, the Idylwylde welcomed aboard the membership of the former Sudbury Granite Club (the Riverside Road venue which stood where the Armouries now reside) in 1967/1968.

Interestingly enough, while the book Idylwylde's First Fifty Years references minutes of meetings from that period that include provisions such as the "Granite Club must operate as a separate entity" and "Operating costs must be apportioned on the basis of use of common facilities", there are no known whereabouts regarding the final official agreement that was used to bind the two sporting organizations.

According to Mahaffy (in discussion with others who may have been more involved at that time), the incoming curling membership offered the existing golf club some clear-cut benefits, including bankrolling the cost of the construction of the addition for curling.

This was aided, at least in part, by the fact that the Granite Club could avail itself to government funding that was not available to a private institution, such as the Idylwylde Golf & Country Club.

While he acknowledges that existing Idylwylde curlers would certainly be welcomed at any of the remaining clubs in town, the truth is that the closure of his athletic winter home would have an impact on the local curling scene.

"There definitely will be attrition," said Mahaffy. "To what level, I don't know."

As for the Idylwylde plans should the ice come out, Arnott suggested that more financially rewarding alternatives could certainly be in the cards.

"Once the board saw the numbers, they asked me to look at various options for that space," he said. "We ran the numbers with indoor golf. It is true that indoor golf, as a 12-month entity, doesn't do very well because it loses for six months."

"But we're only looking to fill a void for six months. We know that during the summer, the golfers are not going to be in there, and that's not the purpose of it."

"In looking at the options, we allocated those same expenses in the same way as we did for curling," Arnott continued. "It has to be an apples to apples comparison."

And if the Idylwylde curling community is clearly frustrated with the plans they are being presented, so too is Arnott, noting that he simply performed the task that was asked of him by the board.

"It honestly doesn't matter to me," he said. "If the membership votes to keep curling and the golfers are going to subsidize it, that's fine. I will run it as a curling rink."

"I was asked to do a job and some people don't like the outcome."

In two weeks or so, we should all know what exactly the outcome will be for the sport of curling at the Idylwylde Golf & Country Club.