After the Columbus Curling Club languished in obscurity during the first two years of its existence, a member got the bright idea of holding a clinic during the Winter Olympics.
That's when things took off.
Four years ago, even more clinics were scheduled when the Games were in Vancouver, British Columbia, but the club still wound up with a waiting list of 700 who wanted to learn more about the sport, club President Gordon Webster said last week.
The Winter Olympics always have been a shot in the arm for the Clintonville-area club, and this year is proving to be no exception as the Games are set to begin Friday, Feb. 7, in Sochi, Russia.
"The demand explodes when the Winter Olympics rolls around, and this time it seems to be arriving early," Webster said.
Curling is played by teams of four whose members take turns sliding heavy granite stones, or "rocks," down strips of ice toward a target, called the "house." The rocks are helped to their destination by two "sweepers," who use brooms to melt the pebbled ice and adjust the speed and spin of the stones. A "skip" serves as captain, directing the sweepers. The team whose rocks are closest to the center of the house after each round, or "end," scores points.
The Columbus Curling Club, which has members from throughout central Ohio and even a few who drive in from as far as Cincinnati, held its first event at the Worthington Ice Center in spring 2004, and later moved to the Chiller North in Dublin, according to its website, columbuscurling.com.
Webster, who has been a member since the club's inception and president the past five years, recalled club members had to wait until hockey teams finished their games in those first years.
"We were always the group that closed the rink on Thursday and Friday nights," Webster said.
The club, which traces its origins to the small Newark Curling Club that was formed in 1999, now plays the sport and holds clinics at a facility primarily built by its members on Silver Drive, just north of Weber Road in Columbus. It opened in November 2008.
The facility now has three "sheets," as the playing area is called in curling, and could accommodate about 200 members, said Webster, a native of Canada who as a child went to the curling rink a couple of times a year with a church youth group.
Membership right now is about 165, but Webster said something remarkable is taking place for the organization.
Typically, between 10 and 20 members move on from the club each year, relocating from central Ohio or otherwise dropping out.
In 2013, however, the number of members at the end of the year was the exact same as when the year began.
"That was the first time we've been able to manage that," Webster said.
Stability in membership, coupled with the desire of Arnold Classic officials to add a curling component to the annual event, have Columbus Curling Club members in the process of developing a long-range plan, Webster said.
That plan might see a fundraising effort to build a new and larger facility.
Different approaches are under consideration.
For example, Webster said the Detroit Curling Club -- the oldest in the United States, dating back to the early 1800s -- raised money to construct a facility on municipal property, then leased it back to the city.
So far, Columbus officials have not been approached about creating a similar arrangement, Webster said, and as an all-volunteer organization, the club is not yet in a position to help with operating a facility.
"We're not at the point yet where we've finished that business plan," Webster said.