(Photo by Chris Neseman/Chicago Curling Club)
The club in suburban Northbrook, Ill. dates back to the late 1940s and has close to 300 members, reflecting the sport’s post-Olympics surge in popularity. The complete renovation of its icemaking equipment, with funds raised through members’ equity donations to a “Campaign for the Next Generation,” will be its first since the 1970s. The project will cut the time to make new sheets of ice for each season by about a month, while also improving playing-surface quality. New air conditioning for the spectator room and a parking-lot upgrade are also part of the capital improvements.
Supporters of the Chicago Curling Club (CCC) in Northbrook, Ill., described by the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill. as “a hidden gem,” are using this summer to ensure that the club sparkles for many winters to come.
The CCC is shielded from street view by a body shop and a car wash, the Daily Herald reported, and while it has been a haven for Chicago- area curlers since it was founded in 1948, longtime residents are frequently surprised when they stumble upon it.
“We have people who walk into our facility who say they have lived in Northbrook for 30 years and never knew we existed,” said Ryan Murphy, 31, a 10-year member and the club’s full-time ice technician. “They always say ‘You’ve been around here for how long?’ It’s pretty surprising.”
The CCC is currently undergoing its most extensive renovation since the early 1970s, when the ice-making equipment was last updated, the Daily Herald reported. The makeover is being financed through a two-year, $1 million fundraising effort called The Campaign for the Next Generation.
Funds have been raised in conjunction with Second City Curling, a 501(c) (3) organization comprised of CCC members who donated their equity in the club. Second City Curling is dedicated to promoting junior curling in northern Illinois, the Daily Herald reported.
The ice-making renovation is expected to be completed well before the season, which typically runs October through April, Murphy told the Daily Herald. That’s when the club’s approximately 300 members compete in various leagues on the rink’s four curling sheets.
The CCC offers men’s and women’s leagues and mixed doubles leagues, the Daily Heraldreported. Also, between 10 to 14 two-hour “Learn to Curl” sessions for beginners are offered each season, to give newcomers a taste of the sport.
The location also welcomes corporate team-bonding outings, club president Greg Sorenson told the Daily Herald.
Additionally, the CCC hosts several bonspiels per season—curling tournaments consisting of many games held over the course of a few days, usually weekends. Afterward, players congregate in the club’s spectator room or “warm” room, which includes a full bar, according to Sorenson.
Such postgame camaraderie has been a hallmark of curling for generations, dating back hundreds of years to the sport’s Scottish origins, the Daily Herald reported.
Curling in the Chicago area dates back to the mid-19th century, the Daily Heraldreported. According to a Chicago Tribune article cited by CCC founding member Fred Duncombe, who co-authored “The History of the Chicago Curling Club,” the sport was sometimes played on the frozen Chicago River in the 1850s.
The CCC was established by a group of curling enthusiasts in Chicago’s north suburbs, the Daily Herald reported, led by Hughston McBain, President and Chairman of Marshall Field & Company, Chicago’s signature but now extinct department store, from 1943-1958.
A longtime member of Indian Hills Country Club in Winnetka, Ill. McBain and colleague Dar Curtis participated for decades in what was then exclusively an outdoor sport, theDaily Herald reported. Curling sheets were mostly attached to north-suburban country clubs like Indian Hills, Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park, Ill. and the Glen View Club in Golf, Ill.
With approximately 350 players competing in the Chicago Curling District by the late 1940s, McBain, Curtis and their fellow enthusiasts set out to build an indoor club, the Daily Herald reported.
According to club history, private funds were raised over the course of nine months in 1948. Organizers sold shares to raise $125,000, and those shareholders became the CCC’s first members, the Daily Herald reported.
The group purchased an old lumberyard in Northbrook and construction began, the Daily Herald reported. The roof of the icehouse itself was formed from army Quonset huts made of corrugated steel.
The first granite “rocks” were thrown on New Year’s Day 1949, the Daily Herald reported, and the Chicago Curling Club has been a centerpiece of the sport in the Midwest ever since.
The bulk of the club’s original ice-making system has been replaced only once, in the early 1970s, Murphy told the Daily Herald. The nearly 50-year-old setup had grown less and less dependable over the last several seasons.
“My understanding from Ryan is that the previous hardware was held together with bubble gum and tape,” Sorenson said, half-joking.
“I’d say some part of the system has broken down each of the last five years,” Murphy acknowledged. “It was costing us money every year.”
The old hardware was removed at the beginning of June, the Daily Herald reported, and a new utility room is being built. Before the end of June, new refrigeration, heating and dehumidifying machinery are scheduled for installation.
The new system will make ice-making more energy-efficient, the Daily Herald reported. Previously, Murphy would fire up the compressor around Labor Day to get the chillers going, and the ice-making process took six weeks.
“This should take that down to just a couple of weeks,” Sorenson said.
The continuing capital campaign will eventually cover the cost of new air conditioning for the spectator room, as well as new asphalt for the parking lot, the Daily Heraldreported.
Like every business in Illinois currently, the CCC is closely monitoring the state’s reopening plan, the Daily Herald reported. The club would not be allowed to operate at full capacity until Phase Four of the Restore Illinois plan is reached.
Members have formed a committee to establish new protocols for the upcoming season, but it’s wait-and-see for the moment, the Daily Herald reported.
“The United States Curling Association has come up with a set of best-practice recommendations for what curling would look like,” Sorenson said. “We’re trying to nail down what happens when you come into the club. Do we have to wear masks? Will we have to resituate our warm room area and try social distancing after the game? We’re looking at all of it.”
But while the club is dealing with the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, members won’t have to worry about ice quality for a very long time, the Daily Herald reported.
That’s important, Murphy said, because ice-quality demands have increased significantly in the last 10 to 15 years as players watch the Olympics and other televised international competitions.
And today’s elite players concern themselves with matters Hughston McBain could not have imagined, the Daily Herald reported, such as a half-degree change in ice temperature, ice leveled to one-thousandth of an inch, or minor changes in the indoor humidity level. CCC’s renovated icehouse will allow better control over such factors that affect game play.
“This system will allow us to build the ice we want to build, that the current generation of players is looking for,” Murphy said. “Our old system couldn’t do that. We had really good ice, but we didn’t have that top-tier ice. What I’m hoping is this will allow us to make that next jump in ice quality.
“But most importantly, this renovation really solidifies us to have a good future in our location,” he added. “The big piece of it is being able to support this club for the next 30, 40, 50 years.”