"In the town of Stirling, in the country of Scotland, a man took a granite block, cut it, rounded it, and carved a ding in it. 1511. The first known curling rock. Since that day, curling has been a game of the people. It has forgone trappings of commerce; embraced all comers. Cherish the truth that all who play the game on any rink, on any given day, can be victorious!"  - Men With Brooms, 2002

What is a Bonspiel?

A bonspiel (pronounced BON-speel) is simply a curling tournament held at a curling club that is attended by teams from many different clubs.  There are four common formats for bonspiels: men’s, women’s, mixed and open.  While a men's bonspiel is for men only and a women's is for women only, a traditional mixed bonspiel requires two players of each gender per team and the men and women must alternate during delivery of the stones, ie. if a man plays lead, a women must play second and so on.  An open bonspiel allows any combination of men or women on a team, with no requirement of who throws when or plays which position.  A newer format called mixed doubles (not to be confused with mixed curling) is also becoming more popular.  This is a game played between teams of only two curlers, one female and one male per team. The rules for mixed doubles differ somewhat from traditional curling but the game is catching on and can be a lot of fun, especially if you're looking to get out and curl with your spouce.

Typically a bonspiel will start on a Friday, although some larger events with lots of teams will start on a Wednesday or Thursday.  “Round-robin” play will go on usually until Sunday morning, with the final events being on Sunday afternoon.  Nearly every bonspiel gives a “three game minimum” which means no matter how you do, win or lose, your team is guaranteed to play three games.  The more you win, the more you keep playing.  All the teams start out in the first event bracket (picture an NCAA basketball pool bracket).  Winners stay in the first event and the losers will fall into the second event bracket, and so on.  Most bonspiels will have either three or four event finals, and even if a teams loses an event final (they’re called finalists – not losers) they still walk away with some cool hardware (usually pins).

Who Plays in a Bonspiel?

A lot of new curlers ask... "Am I good enough to play in a bonspiel?"  The answer is definately... YES!  Curlers of all skill levels will learn much more about the sport of curling and what they can do personally to improve their game while attending a bonspiel than they ever will in league play.  Bonspiels are also of varying levels of competitiveness.  Most will focus on the spirit and fun of the game and competition is not taken too seriously.  Occasionally these will be themed bonspiels with prizes for the teams that best get into the theme, ie. costumes, team spirit, etc.  Other bonspiels will be more competitive with some of the teams playing on a curling circuit or preparing for National Playdowns.  But even these more competitive events will have plenty of teams that are there to just have fun.  Within the GNCC (our regional governing body for curling), there are also three “5-and-Under” bonspiels (men’s, women’s and mixed) for curlers who have five or fewer years of curling experience.  Due to the growing popularity of curling and the large numbers of relatively new curlers, many clubs are also beginning to host their own open 5-and-under bonspiels as well.  These will be excellent bonspiels for most members of OSCC and provide the opportunity to play against other relatively new curlers.  

What to Expect at a Bonspiel

The first thing to expect at a bonspiel is a whole lot of fun!  When a club hosts a bonspiel, the off-ice entertainment for the curlers is almost always just as important as the curling itself.  There will often be games, trivia, raffles and occasionally a banquet or dance.  Meals, such as dinner on Friday and Saturday, and lunch and breakfast on Saturday and Sunday are always included, and the host club members go out of their way to make the visiting curlers feel at home.  Curling clubs also have a bar on site and refreshments are usually offered at very reasonable prices.  After each game, the winning team is expected to buy the first round of drinks for the losing team.  Whichever position you play on your team, you will offer a drink of their choice to your counterpart on the other team.  If you stay around after the game long enough, the losing team will usually reciprocate and will buy the second round.  Another important curling tradition is an exchange of club pins between the teams that play each other.  You will trade a pin from our club for a club pin from a curler you played against.  This way you have lasting souvenirs of the games that you play and the curlers that you meet.  The social element of the game and camaraderie among the players before and after the games is a truly the most important aspect of any bonspiel. 

How do I Signup for a Bonspiel?

If you know you’d like to go to a particular bonspiel and have three friends lined up, feel free to register your team.  You're sure to have a great time.  But if you are still curious about bonspiels and would like more information, if you want to go to a bonspiel but don’t know how to find a team or if you don’t know how to pick the “right bonspiel” for you, that’s where OSCC's Bonspiel Coordinator can help point you in the right direction.  He or she will often be aware of upcoming bonspiels that you might enjoy.  In the meantime, be sure to also check out the GNCC Bonspiel Calendar.  It gives a complete list of local bonspiels for the current curling season, along with links to the host club website where you will find more information on the bonspiel, the entry form, the entry fee and any special discounts at local hotels.

Good curling! 

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