“I view myself as a leader of a team, of people” — Interview with newly elected World Curling President, Beau Welling

Beau Welling and the World Curling Federation Board at the World Curling Congress 2022 © WCF / Céline Stucki

Beau Welling and the World Curling Federation Board at the World Curling Congress 2022 © WCF / Céline Stucki

On 11 September 2022, at the 11th World Curling Annual General Assembly in Lausanne, Switzerland, the World Curling Federation Member Associations elected Beau Welling as the 11th President of the Federation.

We sat down with the newly elected President for a conversation about all things curling.

WCF: Beau Welling, President of the World Curling Federation. How does hearing that make you feel?

Beau Welling (BW): I feel just so humbly honoured. At the same time, I don’t view myself as a person of title. I view myself as a leader of a team, of people. So, when people refer to me as “Mr. President,” I’m looking around to see who they are talking about. But I also feel a real, deep sense of responsibility.

And at the same time, I feel a lot of excitement. In my professional life, I design golf courses. Ultimately, it is really more than just helping to build golf courses, it is designing and creating places and spaces that allow people to come together and have human moments.

As I sit in this new role, I’m very excited about the future and the opportunity to bring people together through this great sport of curling because it’s very much in the vein of what I do for a living. It’s to plan the future. And I feel like curling has a lot of opportunities going forward.

Former President Kate Caithness has led the sport to where it is and done amazing things. So, I think there’s an incredible opportunity to take what she has helped this group accomplish and take it to newer horizons.

© WCF / Céline Stucki

Yours is not a ‘traditional’ curling background. What was your first curling moment?

BW: I know I’m probably seen as someone from outside the world of curling, but I really don’t see it that way. I’ve been doing this for quite some time. I do have some outside orientation, but through my involvement over the years I very much have a deep understanding of curling and the culture of curling.

I’m from South Carolina which is not a curling place and it’s a hot place. I first heard the word “curling” during the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics when it became a demonstration sport. As I was watching, I thought “how in the world could there be some sport that’s in the Olympics and I’ve never heard of?” I went out of my way to learn about it and, at first, I thought “this is crazy, what is this?”

Nothing came from that first experience watching curling, but fast forward 14 years. It is 2002 and I come home late one night, turn on the television, and there are rocks, brooms and ice. And I’m like “that’s that curling thing.” And this was now the Salt Lake Winter Olympics and found myself inexplicably drawn to the television. I went into my office the next day where I worked for a very famous golf course designer, and one of his key guys, Andy Banfield, was originally from Northern Ontario, Canada. He had grown up curling. So, Andy was able to explain to me what I had watched. The more I learned, the more fascinated I became.

Curling is a very strategic game and I’m a very strategic-minded person. It’s very obvious to me that golf and curling come out of the same ether. They are both sports that you can learn relatively quickly but they’re almost impossible to master. You can play them for your entire life, they’re all based around similar values of camaraderie, integrity and honour.

I have a degree in physics, so I think the science part of me very much has enjoyed trajectories and friction and all that. That was one of the main hooks in 2002.

Anyway, the 2006 Winter Olympics rolls around from Torino and that was when curling really made its first big appearance on NBC in the United States. With the time change, curling was on all day long and I could not stop watching it.

All members of the USA curling team for Torino were from the same place, Bemidji, Minnesota. I went online, and I learned that Bemidji was super into curling, produced more national champions than any other place. It was hosting the US national championships two weeks after the Torino Olympics, so I decided to go. I wanted to go see this sport in person.

I went and I was so incredibly welcomed by the people there. They thought it was so fascinating that somebody would come from South Carolina. This trip was a very formative thing because the people were just so nice. I went because I was fascinated by the sport, but I left totally fascinated by the community and the people.

Actually, I had a one-way ticket to Bemidji and I ended up staying nine days. I just loved it so much and it ended with the President of the United States Curling Association naming me the official Southern ambassador for the sport, it was a fun thing. But I left thinking that this was really an adventure.

A few months later, I get a call from the new President of USA Curling and she said, “Beau, we’ve been asked by the USA Olympic Committee to get somebody on our Board that isn’t a curler, and we very much would like to see if it would be you.”

At the time, in golf we were going through a real phase of trying to change the game to grow the game and to bring more people into the game. The challenge with that was facilities. And I could see the similarities that if you really want to grow curling, you had to figure out facilities. I had some thoughts about all of that.

I agree to go on the Board of USA Curling. And on the Board, I slowly started asking questions about bigger ideas. And one of those was around championships and how the championships worked. I felt like we needed to think about how we can monetise our championships. We ended up redoing how the US championships work and the first one happened to be in 2009.

We went to Denver. It was right down the street from where the National Olympic Committee of the United States is in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I knew we could get all those people to come to our national championship, which served as the Olympic Trials for Vancouver.

It was a rousing success. We got great leverage with the NOC, and it helped also to invigorate the Denver Curling Club which is now the fifth largest in the country. Overall, the move did a lot of positive things. It was after that when the United States Olympic Committee asked that I go to Vancouver as a part of the US delegation, as a recognition for my efforts in curling.

I did that and that’s where I first met Kate [Caithness] and Graham [Prouse] and multiple people who are still involved with WCF.

Two big things happened in Vancouver. The US curling people said, “Wow, you really seem to relate to people very well from all over the world. Is there any way you would consider becoming one of our WCF representatives?” And I very happily agreed to do that.

At the same time, people back home in South Carolina started reaching out to me to get curling started there. Shortly after, we launched the Palmetto Curling Club. The key to the club’s success was a large contingent of expat Canadians that had relocated to the area. I was naive thinking I could start a curling club, but luckily, we’ve found this great group of people.

2010 was a big deal for me as that is when I started with the WCF and when I started to get involved in grassroots curling, all while still remaining on the Board of USA Curling.

For the last 12 years, I’ve been involved in international-level curling, important initiatives at US Curling, and yet have had this grounding in grassroots curling. All of this has served me well and has helped shape and grow my appreciation of the challenges facing different level organisations. I do come from another sport and am still active in another sport, but I’m extraordinarily grounded in the sport of curling.

Lead us through your first experience in stepping onto curling ice and delivering your first stone.

BW: Going back to Bemidji in 2006, I had my first real on-ice experience on the second night when I was with two of the Olympians from the US, Shawn Rojeski and Joe Polo, who won the bronze medal in 2006. Their fathers, Butch and John, said, “if you’re gonna be serious about learning about the sport, we’re gonna get you on the ice.” I was as nervous I think as I’ve ever been because I had no idea what I was doing. I can remember being surprised by how difficult it was, but then how much improvement I had in eight stones. I remember being exhausted but also exhilarated by finally getting onto the ice.

How much have you played since?

BW: I started getting asked to go to different bonspiels. And it was a unique experience because I was at these summer bonspiels with very-very elite level curlers, and I would be the novice throwing lead stones. But it was a wonderful experience. So between 2006 and 2010, I’d probably curl a few of times a year.

Then in 2010, when we started the local club I started curling a lot more. But my life’s got increasingly busy, so I played less and less. Over the last five-six years I’ve been on the sub lists at the local club. Instead of two bonspiels a year, maybe it’s one bonspiel a year.

Back to your new leadership role in curling. How can you summarise your vision for the sport and for the World Curling Federation?

BW: I view us as, and believe that we truly are, a world curling family. I hope that we are able to continue to work to make the family bigger, stronger and better. The best way we grow our world curling family is by truly working together. I’m hopeful that I can be a force to working with the rest of the Board, with staff, with Member Associations, with our partners and with everybody else to accomplish this growth.

I also hope to be the person who helps to unite us further and to help us communicate better across all levels of the organisation. I consider myself in a unique position to work toward becoming a larger, stronger and better organisation, because I truly have a fundamental appreciation of all facets of our sport — from elite level, high-performance curling to grassroots curling.

What are the challenges that you want to tackle in the coming months?

BW: The Board was talking about looking at our strategic plan, The Way Forward, over the next couple of months. When I was elected in Budapest in 2018, Kate asked me to lead the strategic planning process and I thought, “Okay, we’re going to start from core principles and work up.” And we did that which I feel was very successful.

With the new Board, I think we need to look at the strategic plan and what we need to work on is our innovation and innovative thinking. Obviously, some ideas have been thrown around, one of those being formats, and I think all those discussions will continue. This will be our primary focus over the next few months and hopefully we will have more information to not just disseminate but to engage with our membership.

More than ever, I feel now is the time to look at what we need to do relating to big steps towards our strategic plan.

One thing we have done well in the golf world over the past decade has been to start to diversify. And on the curling front, I’m super excited about the diversity group that we’re putting together to start thinking through some of these matters.

We’ve also got some big challenges to face on environmental and utility costs. It is going to be a tough year for many places due to costs. Because of this, I think we really need to think big and hard on the innovation side as it relates to these things.

I’m a big believer that you can always be better and there’s nothing wrong about trying to be better. And to me it is not the Board just doing this alone, it’s very much engaging with our members and stakeholders. We will brainstorm around innovation and where we go with the sport.  I’m pretty excited about that. There are technological tools that if we harness correctly, it can really be used very effectively for all of us to work together better.

On a practical level, where is your role going to bring you first?

BW: Going into the election, I intentionally did not make the assumption that I was going to win, so now I am work on moving around my calendar to make sure that I can get to some of the exciting upcoming events. I am hopeful to attend one of our newest events, the Pan Continental Championships. And I am doing my best to make sure I can come to Aberdeen to the World Mixed Championship as well.

Attending these events as President of the World Curling Federation is going to be pretty surreal so I am looking forward to an exciting season ahead.

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Perth, Scotland

22 September 2022
Beau Welling
World Curling Federation President