The Grand Slam of Curling slides into another season, with four premier cashspiel events that feature the most-lucrative purses and bonus money on the World Curling Tour. Making this season even more intriguing is a connection to the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Here’s what you need to know ahead of the first event, The Masters of Curling, which runs from Oct. 30-Nov. 4 in Abbotsford, B.C.
The Maters will feature many of the teams that have already qualified for the Olympics or will be competing for the right to represent their country. Six of the eight Canadian men’s and women’s teams that will battle in the Roar of the Rings Curling Trials in Winnipeg, December 1-8, are participating in the Masters. The other two teams in Olympic qualifying will come out of the pre-trials event the week after The Masters in Kitchener-Waterloo.
All of the Grand Slam events have purses of $100,000, plus added bonus money for wins. In addition to the Masters, the men’s Grand Slam events include the Canadian Open (November 13-17 in Medicine Hat), the National (March 12-16 in Fort McMurray) and the Players’ Championship (April 15-20 in Summerside, Prince Edward Island).
The women’s Slams events are the Masters and the Players’ Championship. Though the Slams began in 2001, it was only last year when Rogers came aboard that women were given a chance to play in the Masters.
For the second consecutive year, Sportsnet is offering a $1-million bonus for any men’s team that sweeps all four Slams. If there is no sweep, the team with the most points collects a $50,000 bonus, the runnerup $30,000 and third-place team $20,000. If a women’s team sweeps the Masters and Players’ Championship it will collect $100,000. If there is no sweep, the top team will collect a $12,500 bonus, the runnerup $7,500 and the third-place finisher $5,000.
Last year, Kevin Koe of Alberta won the opening tournament, but Ontario’s Glenn Howard prevailed as the overall champion, winning the Canadian Open and the Players’ Championship. Howard defeated Manitoba’s Mike McEwen 4-3 in the final of the Players’, collecting the $50,000 bonus and $26,000 in tournament prize money.
Ottawa’s Rachel Homan won the Masters, a key stepping stone en route to winning the Scottie’s National women’s championship. But Scotland’s Eve Muirhead, who won the World’s, capped off a great season winning the Players’ and the bonus, in addition to $23,000 in purse earnings. Muirhead defeated Sweden’s Margaretha Sigfridsson in a repeat of the final of the world championship. Muirhead’s team became the first from Europe to win a Grand Slam tournament. The Players’ brings together the top 15 men’s and women’s teams in the world.
The Grand Slam has a greater group of teams overall than the Brier national men’s championship and the Scotties national women’s championship, which bring together representatives from their respective provinces or Territories. It is the reason the strong curling provinces such as Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alberta and B.C. have collectively dominated those tournaments. Five weeks before each of the other Slams, the top 18 men’s teams based on their rankings on the World Curling Tour are granted invitations to play. If any of the teams can’t participate based on other commitments, the ones ranked immediately below are granted invitations. The entry fees are $1,000, but can be won back with a single win.
The Players’ brings together the top 15 men’s and women’s teams based on points accumulated on the World Curling Tour during the current season.
The Slams feature many international teams that don’t have to be pooled specifically based on provincial residence or even the same country. Last year, Alberta’s David Nedohin joined the Norwegian team skipped by Thomas Ulsrud, whose foursome stands out because of their funny (some would describe it as funky) pants that are becoming more prevalent in other sports.
Because of the proximity to the Olympics, the Masters takes on added importance beyond just the money, the fact it’s the first of the Slams and immediately will make the men’s and women’s winners eligible for the bonuses. For teams looking for prime competition, the Masters of Curling is a great opportunity. Some of the squads have already been selected by their country’s federation to represent them in the OIympics. The format of this year’s Masters gives curlers the opportunity to play other countries and their representatives for the Olympics.
One team that will be noticeably absent from the Masters is skipped by reigning Canadian men’s champion Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie. He is playing in the final qualifying event for the Trials, taking place in Kitchener the day after the Masters.
Teams that won’t be in the Masters will not have a chance to qualify for the bonus for sweeping all four events, but will still be eligible for the other bonuses based on overall points.
The Grand Slam events began nine years after the start of the World Curling Tour, which was created in 1992 to give men’s players a chance to compete for prize money through a season-long series of tournaments independent of the national championship. Through the evolution of the Tour, teams could showcase individual sponsors on their apparel without the restrictions that apply to provincial, national and world competitions. Essentially, the WCT put the game back into the players’ hands. Some of the high-profile teams elected not to play in provincial playdowns — and effectively forfeited the chance to qualify for the Brier — if it conflicted with a Grand Slam event as a means of showing solidarity for the World Curling Tour. Following conciliation between the Canadian Curling Association and the WCT players, all the issues were resolved to create a resolution that allowed players to support the cashspiel circuit and play in the playdowns.
Through the involvement of Sportsnet and a sublicensing agreement with the CBC, the Grand Slam events receive blanket television coverage and support on multiple platforms. When the Slams faced an uncertain future, Rogers entered into a partnership with the World Competitive Curlers Association in August 2012 to own and operate the tournaments and provide a greater commitment, both in terms of money and overall multi-platform production.