David Gersenson Talks Curling, Community and Passion
David Gersenson, the founder of the Leelanau Curling Club, has taken an oddball route to his vision. Instead of a traditional, municipality-ran or non-profit club, the Leelanau Curling Club is privately-owned and part of a joint-venture with Broomstack Kitchen and Tap House. By marrying the facilities, the sport instantly becomes more accessible to new fans. Recently, I took a trip to Northern Michigan to chat with David and “learn to curl”.
by: Alex P. Gara
Maple City, Michigan’s real-life Broomstack didn’t match the image I had crafted in my head. When I heard kitchen + taphouse + curling I thought of one of these overproduced fun zones with a parking lot full of curlside service and a milkshake factory, or something unnecessarily decadent like that. See, there has been an influx of these funcilities as of late, who corporatize competition in that familiar, Hard Rock kind of way. These aren’t necessarily bad things though, they’re just what tends to work.
So, as I drove my boccemobile down the quiet, winding highway - where the fall leaves were changing colors by the minute - I was surprised to be greeted by an old-timey schoolhouse rather than a funtrance with an insta wall.
My wife and I arrived about ten minutes before the restaurant opened, so we detoured away from the service side, directly into the curling room.
Again, my mental image was way off the mark. There were no kid’s birthday parties and bigger, more profitable amenities casting shadows over the ice. This was a curler’s curling den. Two full-sized, perfectly manicured sheets sparkled on the other side of the glass, while the room smelled more fresh and woodsy than deep and fried.
Upon our entrance, my subject, David Gersenson was in the zone, delivering stone after stone. Of course he wasn’t the host I was expecting. He didn’t go to Pinewood Social on a bros trip to Nashville and think ‘this but curling'. He was a middle-aged local, dedicated to his sport, to his craft, and to his budding community.
After sending five or six more rocks down the ice, David met me in the warm room. Up close, he had an athletic but smallish build, like a cyclist. I took his untamed curls and scruff for his COVID-look, and as was the theme with all of my assumptions, I was wrong again. This was actually the polished version of David, who was sporting a glorious “The Dude” look in some local write-ups from last winter.
Somehow, with all of these assumptions completely missing the mark, as soon as David and I started talking, everything felt perfectly familiar again. In just a few short months since I launched Oddball, I have come to find that while the backdrops, ball shapes, and buildings are never the same, the passion, vision, and commitment to community are all quite similar.
Before I even mic’d him up or asked my first question, David launched into the vision: I was thinking about creating the minor of minor leagues of curling. You’re getting on the equivalent of a local PBS station at two o’clock in the morning and you’ve got the Northern Michigan club playing against the Eastern Michigan club. And the higher of the higher end teams compete in the bonspiels and the tournaments on the weekend and then you have a full on minor league system happening, making it more accessible and getting more people involved.
Alex Gara: Let’s take a step back and start with the Leelanau Curling Club. Tell me about it:
David Gersenson: The Leelanau Curling Club is more or less a brand new curling club in an area that curling hasn’t been in the past. It’s the first privately owned curling club in the history of the country. Every other curling club has been non-profit, owned by it’s members, or municipality-owned. I got into curling back in 2016 and instantly fell in love with it. We didn’t have a place to curl on dedicated ice. We curled on hockey ice - much different quality.
Playing the curve?
Exactly. Playing the curve. Hockey ice, while to the naked eye is relatively level, it’s really not. So I made it a mission to go out and create a dedicated club. I found this property of 17 acres here in Maple City and was able to partner with the restaurant. We opened with zero members in 2019 and this winter, pre-COVID we had [sold out] league nights on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. 32 players a night. Eight teams of four.
Other than the restaurant pairing, what makes the club stand out?
Where we really differ from other clubs is that we constantly have ‘learn to curls’. People walk in off the street or make a reservation before hand and take a learn to curl class. I give you a crash 30-minute lesson on how to throw a stone and how to sweep and a few other things, and before you know it, you’re competing in a game of curling with the other people in the class for an hour and a half. You pick up the basics extremely quickly. The basis of the club is to teach and introduce the sport of curling to the community.
So you’re educating a lot of new players around here?
Do you know where the nearest curling club is to here?
The closest dedicated club is over in Lewiston. About an hour and forty-five directly east of here. Then there is one in Midland, a little over two hours south.
Have they come up to check out your space?
Oh yeah! The Midland Junior club had twelve players up here just yesterday. Mostly juniors. This is where they come to practice because, 1. Curling isn’t year-round everywhere and this is a year-round facility and 2. Many of the clubs don’t have any ice right now, because they don’t know if they’re reopening or not during COVID.
You obviously made the decision to keep the ice on and stay open. Was that tough?
No. [Laughs] This is what we want to do. I came here during COVID and threw stones with my wife and kids. This was always a passion project out here for us. This is here so we can curl, my family can curl, and we can share with the community.
Growing up I loved all the sports. Baseball, basketball, and football were my main ones but by the time I got to 10th grade I realized that I would have to be a track runner if I wanted to be anything that was better than average. And then I got older I didn’t have an activity or a hobby I was able to do. I was entrepreneurial but I didn’t have anything that was keeping my focus. I was always thinking about other things. Being introduced to curling brought me into the now. I didn’t think about sports scores, I didn’t think about emails, I didn’t think about anything else that was going on other than playing the game and improving on it. That was it.
That’s fantastic. Tell me about the leagues.
We just returned back to leagues and have an eight-week league going on right now. We’ll do a quick four-to-five week around the holidays. Then we’ll kick off our main three month season in January.
So thats the premiere season?
The main season, yeah. And then it dies down but we’ll go year-round, moving back to eight week seasons.
Tell me a little bit about the relationship with the restaurant and players. Are the players drinking?
They’re drinking. There is no requirement, but there are definitely plenty of drinks sitting on the ledge on the other side of the glass. The restaurant is called Broomstack. After a curling match you sit down with the other team and one buys the other a round of drinks, thats what broomstacking is. That’s kind of like our relationship. We are separate entities but we are completely together. Players eat and drink at the restaurant and patrons of the restaurant come down and watch the curling.
What’s that look like?
They come down and they don’t really know what its going to be. They walk in the door and say “you gotta be kidding me!”. I’ll come out and talk to them and they’ll say, “I’ve never curled before. How long have these people been curling?”. And then I’ll say forty-five minutes. Big or small, old or young, athletic or arthritic, anybody is able to curl.
How was the process of creating the curling courts?
It’s my ohm space. It’s my zen space. I’ve been constantly learning and it’s been a challenge. People will ask who is taking care of the ice and I’ll tell them I am. Then they’ll ask me what I know about ice, and before I started maintaining the ice here, I'd say I don’t know anything about ice. So yeah, it’s been a challenge but it’s been an incredible hobby and for the first time the ice is really where it needs to be. You pebble the ice. You scrape the ice. You nip the ice. There’s a process. You put [down] these pebbles, these droplets of water that freeze, then you cut the tops of those, and thats what the stone glides over and the bottom the stone grabs the top of the pebble and that’s what it gives it it’s curl. Sort of like the opposite effect of a golf ball.
And how did you learn all of that? Youtube videos?
Yeah, Youtube videos and there has been a handful of people who have been very open with me and who answered the phone when I called.
I’ve noticed that too with Oddball. I’ve reached out to a lot of different clubs and communities and very willing to share their stories.
Yeah. Well, really what it is, is people sharing their passion.
For more information on the Leelanau Curling Club, visit here.