While lots of golf course architects take several weeks off in the winter (in many cases for a lack of work), Beau Welling of Greenville, S.C., never was going to be in the office in February no matter how many projects his design company had on the books.
Welling – who was one of Tom Fazio’s protégés before becoming the chief architect at Tiger Woods Design and then launching his own firm (Beau Welling Design) – is in Sochi, Russia, for the Olympic Games, not as a spectator but as an executive committee member of the United States Curling Association. Welling is one of the leaders of the U.S. Curling delegation and heads the media and public relations committee for Team USA.
Granted there are some oblique connections between curling and golf: Both were invented in Scotland; 70 percent of the world’s curling stones come from Ailsa Craig, the granite island just a few miles offshore from Turnberry and Royal Troon; several of the Olympic curling teams wear Loudmouth pants; and Erika Brown, a member of the U.S. Women’s Curling team, played golf at Wisconsin in the early ’90s. But other than that and stymies, there is not a lot of natural synergy between the two.
So, how did a Southern gentleman with a Brown education and a history in golf course design become one of the leading figures in a sport most casual viewers describe as shuffleboard on ice?
“I first heard about curling in 1988 when it was a demonstration sport at the Calgary Olympics,” Welling said. “I was 18 years old, living in Greenville, and a sports fanatic and here was this sport that I had never heard of. I said, ‘How in the world can there be a sport in the Olympics that I don’t know?’
“I went to learn about it and I saw rocks and brooms and ice, and I thought, ‘How can this be?’ So, I have, literally, gone from my couch in South Carolina with no idea what curling even was, to being with the U.S. Olympic team.”
The route from novice spectator to executive committee member had a few doglegs. In 2002 when the Winter Games came to Salt Lake City, Welling followed the sport more closely, and by 2006 when the Games were in Turin, Italy, he was a full-blown fan.
“I couldn’t get enough of it,” he said.
Just a few weeks after the Turin games, the U.S. National Championships were held in Bemidji, Minn., and, on a whim Welling flew up to watch. In his hotel, he found himself eating breakfast with Pete Fenson, captain of the U.S. team that had won the bronze medal in Turin.
“I was like a kid in a candy store,” Welling recalled. “I’ve met lots of famous golfers, but I was really excited and nervous to meet one of my curling heroes.”
With his Southern accent and golf background, Welling became the novelty mascot for the U.S. team at those championships, even taking a few lessons from Fenson and others.
“It was like having Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods teaching you how to play golf,” he said. “I was shocked at how difficult it was. The physicality is something you don’t realize watching on television. After 20 stones I could barely walk.”
He also had lengthy discussions with the athletes about how to improve the sport’s profile in America. That led to a surprise call from then USCA president Georgia West, and an even bigger surprise invitation to join the USCA Board.
Eight years later, Welling still is an 18-handicap curler, but his love of the sport has only increased. He created the Palmetto Curling Club in Greenville and has lobbied the South Carolina legislature to designate curling as the official Winter Olympic Sport of the state.
“I design golf courses to support my curling habit,” he has said many times.
Those courses include projects with Tiger Woods Design in Cabo San Lucas and Ensenada, Mexico, and unfinished courses in Asheville, N.C., and Dubai.
“It is a lifetime sport,” Welling said of curling. “Three or four generations can play together and have a great family experience.”
Funny, that sounds a lot like another sport we know.