A warning sign for curling in country club settings as class clashes throw curling aside.
By Doug Flowers -- I received notice of the closure of Weston curling on Tuesday. I was livid. Livid because the decision was unnecessary, wrong-headed, and callous, and the notice itself was a blatant misrepresentation. I decided I had better wait a few days to settle down so I could exercise some restraint.
I visited a friend in Scotland last year and his situation comes to mind as I prepare this. He was selling his farm which his family had worked for a number of generations. I presumed that such sale would include chattel plus land, however, learned to my surprise that the land had been leased all that time from a Duke whose family had been deeded it by a monarch back in the dark ages. Most farmers did not own their land and were indeed subject to this plutocratic system. The Duke in my friend's situation simply wanted the farm for other purposes and my friend was evicted.
The capsulized version of what transpired at Weston is that the board made an ill-conceived decision in August to increase curling rates without input from the curlers. Curlers were indignant and many resigned their membership - a sufficient number that the Board had to make a decision to either engage the curlers and reconsider the rate increases or, close down curling. Our Dukes, insulted by the curlers' reaction to their ill-informed decision, were not about to back down. Weston did not fall therefore due to financial considerations as erroneously professed by the official closure notice. It fell to plutocratic arrogance.
One would have to ask why the curlers were so indignant and would choose to resign. The answer has little to do with the rate increase itself, although many considered it to be excessive and poorly thought out. The answer derives from the fact the curlers themselves had just executed a huge membership effort, resulting in a 30% increase and a template for continued growth. That this effort was ignored, that the current and future contribution to club revenues was not acknowledged, and that the curlers were left out of discussions which led to the rate increase, precipitated offence and indignation. The perception was that Weston had little respect for curlers and little commitment to curling.
The following excerpt from the October 31, 2017, Annual Report demonstrates that financial concerns vis a vis curling were not originally a concern. Indeed they only became a concern when the board precipitated a member exodus. To blame closure on the financial weakness of curling is patently bogus and a clumsy diversion from the culpability of the Board and senior staff.
"...In 2017 the Finance committee took the lead ...to assess the financial health of the curling section. The very positive conclusion to that study... is that the dues from our curlers cover both the direct costs (e.g. maintenance of the ice surface, curling related salaries) and indirect costs (e.g.share of clubhouse utilities costs such as hydro) of the curling operation. In fact, curling contributes a small profit to our overall operations and makes a material contribution to the food and beverage operations during the quiet winter months. Your Board is encouraged by the considerable energy within the curling ranks being focussed on attracting new members and remain optimistic that curling will retain its place at Weston going forward."
Source: The Weston Golf and Country Club Information Circular and Financial Statements 2017
The assessment of the financial health of curling referenced in the above quote includes the following notable numbers:
a) Net total contribution of curling to operations: $33,000 to $43,000 annually between 2015 and 2018
b) Capital dues paid by curlers:
2015 - $41,327
2016 - $36,852
2017 - $40,087
Total paid over the three years: $118,266
Capital spent on curling:
2015 - $20,625
2016 - $22,025
2017 - $0
Capital spent by club over the three years: $42,650
Difference between paid and spent: $75,616
c) Annual expenditure on marketing and promotion of curling: $0
It should be noted that these numbers reflect the situation up to October 31, 2017. They do not include or anticipate increased revenues resulting from the campaign launched and executed by curling members. As reported by staff, that campaign increased membership from 243 to 310 over the course of last season. Beyond that, a February Open House was attended by 86 prospective curlers, many of whom would have attended an Adult Learn to Curl in October. The stage had been set by the curling members for substantial growth.
What the numbers also demonstrate is that the club has been negligent in terms of both marketing curling and investing collected capital dues into curling. Whereas area curling clubs have invested in marketing and capital improvements and enjoy burgeoning memberships, Weston staff and Board neglected their duty and let curling membership dissipate. It took the curlers themselves to recognise the situation and lead a rejuvenation campaign. It is shameful that rather than recognising the growth potential of that campaign, the board and senior staff took it upon themselves to unilaterally fix their perceived revenue issue by increasing rates. If there is a financial weakness anywhere it is that exercised by the Board and staff in their oversight of curling.
The Weston situation demonstrates the vulnerability of curling within a country club setting. Curlers are second class citizens, divorced from both day-to-day and board level decisions. While public curling clubs thrive, curling in private clubs struggles. Not because there aren't enough curlers, or because costs are too high, rather because board members and staff are frequently too remote from curling operations, too reluctant to invest in infrastructure and growth initiatives, and too proud to seek informed advice - and sometimes because club staff are too obsequious, or too junior to have meaningful input.
Toronto can ill afford to lose another curling club. Interest in the game is higher than ever and a well managed and marketed club at Weston would thrive. It is particularly sad to lose Weston in the manner we did. Like my Scottish farmer friend, we had a passionate affection for what we did not own and we have unnecessarily lost wonderful tradition, history, and community.