Skip Bruce Korte wasn’t sure if he’d ever make it back into a Grand Slam of Curling event.
But in early December, he found out his team had received a berth into the Canadian Open through a sponsorship exemption, which took place in North Battleford, Sask.
“To get them here, with me for at least one more event, I’m not choking up but I almost am … it’s wonderful. I’m just so thankful I had the opportunity,” the Muenster native said, whose team is almost half his age.
The last time Korte was at a Grand Slam was a decade ago at The Players Championship in Calgary. He even won The Masters in the Slam’s inaugural year, in 2001. This year, the Grand Slam will offer up a total purse of $1.5 million on the men’s and women’s sides, but there was a time when the sport wasn’t as lucrative. A time Korte remembers vividly.
“We had one event, it was the Brier, and players didn’t get any money. It’s always been you go to curl, and if you qualify, you break even. There’s only so many teams that can do that. After a while, it’s like hitting your head against a wall.”
In 2000, Korte, who was one of five VP’s of the World Curling Players Association, set out to challenge the Canadian Curling Association. They decided to boycott the Brier. But to have an impact, they decided to cold-call the top teams, garnering support.
“It was a tough sell. Saskatchewan had two teams. We had a couple other teams sign up, and then they phoned me back and said, ‘No, we’re pulling out, we can’t do it.'”
Eventually, Korte and the other VP’s convinced some of the best curlers in Canada, known as the “Original 18,” to boycott the Brier from 2001-03.
“It was a way for the players to try and get some leverage, to try and bring a little bit back to the players. The Briers had evolved to such a point that they were making millions of dollars and the players weren’t getting any of that.”
For Korte, who had won provincials in 2000 and would have been a major contender for the Brier Tankard, the decision was difficult, but part of a bigger picture.
“We were the top team in the province, thinking we had a good shot to get the Brier again, and maybe win it. But we felt this is better for the game.”
Eventually, the Original 18 succeeded in creating the Grand Slam of Curling, but it wasn’t without its challenges.
“The first Slam, I always remember it was hanging by a thread because we couldn’t get an ice maker. If you went to make ice for us, you were not going to be in the Brier.”
For an ice maker, the Brier was the pinnacle because it set you apart as a world class ice maker. Mark Shurek took a chance with the organization, and the Grand Slam was born.
This might be one of the last events on Korte’s calendar, but by playing in one more Slam, he can bear witness to the fruits of his labour.
“It’s a real vindication that we made the right decision. You’re always thinking ‘What if?’, but for me, it’s peace … it’s the icing on the cake.”