Curling: Baxter Cup glory just a stone's throw away

By Rosie Manins

The tools of the game are basic: brooms, stones, ice-cold beer and tam- o'-shanters.

Everyone had them in spades this week at the mid-winter battle for one of New Zealand's oldest sporting trophies - the Baxter Cup, the prize given to the country's top curling club.

The competition at the Centennial Pond in Naseby was so keen that the onset of dusk did not put the curlers off.

Some played in the dark, not finishing until about 6pm - a good nine hours after play began.

The ice was packed with hardy but red-nosed competitors wearing their colourful tam-o'-shanters (woollen hats adorned with pom-poms in club colours).

Thick fog shrouded the ice on Thursday and kept temperatures a few degrees below zero all day as 88 curlers from 11 South Island clubs - all part of the Naseby Curling Council - fought it out in the Central Otago gloom.

Maniototo Ice Rink chairman Jock Scott said the ice was almost as good as it could be this year, despite a bit of humidity which made it "drug", or slow.

Most curlers were happy enough in the chill air but were nevertheless grateful for a hot lunch.

"A lot of people would get up out of their graves to change places with us, that's for sure," curler Stuart Hore said.

Mr Hore, a fourth generation curler, recalls his father talking about three-day curling matches at St Bathans. "There's a lot of tradition here. You have to obey the rules and play to the best of your ability, but the main thing is to enjoy yourself and the company of those you play against."

With a wry grin, Mr Hore revealed he was related in some way to every member of the opposition team ... proving curling really was in the family. A Naseby club member, Mr Hore was joined by first-time team member Michael Wargon, who had never played on natural ice before.

The 25-year-old said playing in the Baxter Cup was an "enjoyable, all round social good time", and planned to compete in more.

Jamie McMillan, 19, was among the youngest curlers competing.

Just a few metres away, 79-year-old Terry Manson was putting more than 50 years experience to the test.

Typically a male-dominated sport, curling has become popular with female competitors, who gave an extra edge to competition for the Baxter Cup this week.

While the NCC comprises 17 clubs, six were unable to gather enough members in time for this year's match, which was called just 24 hours prior to the first games taking place.

Like the big national bonspiel - a curling tournament - the Baxter Cup must be played on natural ice, making the annual event difficult to organise.

"We try to give people 36 hours warning, but it's not very often we get enough ice to have this event, so we call it whenever we can," NCC secretary Pat Shea said. "Generally, when a match is called people drop everything."

The cup was contested last year and before that in 2001. The Otago Central Club claimed the title both times.

Mr Shea said there had probably never been a Baxter Cup tournament comprising all 17 clubs, as some were struggling for members.

"It's also a long way to travel at short notice, and the match is often played on a working day."

Hailing back to 1882, the Baxter Cup was originally a trophy of the Dunedin Curling Club, the first such club established in New Zealand in 1873.

The cup was named after David Baxter, a founding member of the club who reach New Zealand in 1856 from Blairgrove, Perthshire.

When a lack of ice prompted the club to disband, the cup was passed on to other Naseby clubs, and later to the NCC as an annual inter-club trophy.

Only three of the clubs competing were from outside the Maniototo: the Dunedin Country and Dunedin City clubs, and Windwhistle from Canterbury.

When play finished, it was announced that Garribaldi had taken the Baxter Cup off Otago Central, which could only manage second. Windwhistle was third.

- Otago Daily Times

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