Coyotes Curling Club has found a home in the Arizona desert

TEMPE — Tucked away in a former warehouse, where the fuzz for Penn tennis balls once was manufactured, resides the Coyotes Curling Club. Six expat Canadians with a passion for the game decided after the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah that curling belonged in the desert, too.

“People said we couldn’t, and we had a lot of naysayers. But we kind of kept to it and made it happen,” said Darryl Horsman, a Coyotes Curling Club board member. “We fought through the obstacles, trials and tribulations. Everybody that walks in is a testament to hard work.”

Surrounded by the desert, Coyotes Curling hosts eight tournaments — known as bonspiels — per year, including one beginning March 9. It also hosts two high-performance world elite events, where the top 20 curlers from around the world come to Tempe to compete.

A sport dominated by the United States’ neighbor to the north, Coyotes Curling is no different. But a membership that once featured just 10 percent non-Canadians includes approximately 60 percent now.

“We teach a ton (of Arizonans),” Horsman said. “Every time we do a learn-to-curl, those are always full. A lot of Arizonans are thirsty for learning the game but most of the time they come out, they have to go back to Target or Walmart to buy warmer clothes. Not many of them have 40-degree weather clothes.”

For one member, a spontaneous learn-to-curl with friends led to a two-and-a-half year commitment with the club.

“A friend of mine saw it on the Winter Olympics and just randomly said, ‘I wonder if for some weird reason we have one here in Phoenix,’ ” said Stacy Petersen, a Phoenix resident. “She looked it up and we did a learn-to-curl, about eight of us. I loved it and I am the only one of eight that still does it.”

Sean Keeling watches his curling stone head down the ice during the Canada Week Bonspiel at Coyotes Curling Club, Friday, February 3, 2017 in Tempe, AZ. (Shane DeGrote/Cronkite News)

Sean Keeling watches his curling stone head down the ice during the Canada Week Bonspiel at Coyotes Curling Club, Friday, February 3, 2017 in Tempe. (Photo by Shane DeGrote/Cronkite News)

In addition to its public and youth learn-to-curls, it also hosts corporate learn-to-curls. The number of participants have skyrocketed because what is taught on the ice translates well into the boardroom.

“If all four players don’t do their best, the team won’t win,” Horsman said. “You need everybody’s trust, everybody’s communication, and I think that in this day and age, it’s a great sentiment to have.”

Thanks to the popularity of the sport in the Winter Olympics, Coyotes Curling (which is not affiliated with the NHL Arizona Coyotes) has seen its membership expand year after year. The club started with six members and grew to 60 while it was located at the Scottsdale Ice Den. Once the club secured its current location in Tempe, it has grown to 180 members.

Aspiring curlers inspired by the Winter Olympics are in for a surprise once they step on the rink for the first time.

“It is much harder than it looks,” said Kate Garfinkel, whose husband began playing after the 2006 Winter Olympics. “You need a strong core for balance. If it’s an intense game and you are doing a lot of sweeping, then you need a lot of upper body endurance.”

Despite the initial learning curve, Horsman insists curling is a sport anyone can play.

“Curling appeals to everybody because it’s an every man and woman sport. You can be a little overweight, you can be tall, short, have a bad hip, have a bad back, and you can still curl and have fun.”