Dec 30 2011 by Gordon Bannerman, Perthshire Advertiser Friday
THE Mercure Perth Masters ushers in the international curling year in style.
One of Europe’s top events, it has lured leading teams from across the continent and from North America in pursuit of a biggest ever £6,000 first prize.
The total prize pot is £17,000 this year, with the action under way from January 5-8 at the famous Glover Street ice pad.
Bill Duncan, committee vice-chairman, said: “The reputation of the Perth Masters goes from strength to strength and continues to grow in stature. We actually had a waiting list for overseas teams looking to take part.
“For the first time we have a team from Russia competing and another is coming from Latvia. There will be four of Canada’s top rinks so the level of competition will be world class.”
The event dates back 36 years and 16 international rinks will join 16 Scottish teams in action in the Fair City, with the Mercure hotel group sponsoring the tournament.
The World Curling Tour event has enticed recently crowned European champion Thomas Ulsrud from Norway, along with beaten Swedish finalist Niklas Edin.
Among the Scots favourites will be a 2010 winner Tom Brewster, runner-up at last year’s world championships. Playing out of Aberdeen where he is the ice manager, Tom remains a member of the Airleywight Curling Club in Perthshire and will enjoy strong local support.
Bill said: “The Canadians are out in force again. They have won four of the last five. Mike McEwen’s defending champions will be in Perth and among the favourites. James Grattan and his rink actually won the trip to Perth in a big competition over there.
“Former Olympic gold medal winner Brad Gushue is another one to look out for.
“It’s shaping-up as a memorable competition and in recent years the finals have been breathtaking. Last year McEwen and Duncan Fernie from Blair Atholl were battling it out to the last stone when Duncan was the victim of a cruel pick-up.”
Fernie will be keen to go one better this time round and underline the Highland Perthshire village’s reputation as a hotbed of curling.
David Murdoch, fresh from the Europeans, will again have Glenn Muirhead in a rink coached by David Ramsay.
The old guard will be represented by Pete Loudon and ex-Team GB Olympic coach David Hay, both leading lights on the organising committee.
Former world champion David Smith, with Warwick Smith in the line-up, is also on ice and David’s son Kyle and his junior rink will enjoy the experience. Rob Niven from Kinross will figure in Graeme Shaw’s line-up and Sandy Reid is with Moray Combe’s rink, who have been in fine form and reached the Scottish final last year.
Bill Duncan has welcomed the on-going sponsorship from Mercure, with the off-ice activities centred on the former City Mills hotel.
He said: “It is a busy time for the ice rink with the Scottish playdowns and then the finals looming here in February. The Perth Masters could provide a form guide. And we we’’re delighted to enjoy a close relationship with the Mercure.”
Part of the appeal of the Mercure Masters is the off-ice camaraderie and the Canadians are intent on making the most of the trip, with plans laid to tee-up at Carnoustie and the Old Course.
Mercure Hotel general manager Chris Charalambous said: “The organisers do a fantastic job and players appreciate it. They are ferried to and from the airport and looked after throughout their stay.”
A Calcutta Night is being staged at the ice rink on Thursday at 7pm and two-times Masters winner Pete Loudon will handle the auction this year.
Among guests at the Masters Diner next Friday will be Mike Hay, from the British Olympic Association, and Forth Wines hold a tasting evening on January 7.
Provost John Hulbert welcomed the sporting and economic benefits for the Fair City, with Perth and Kinross Council, Earnside Coaches and Perth Honda among the supporting sponsors.
“This event gives Perth a great international start to the year. Competitions like this are very important, not only because of their economic effect but because they greatly enhance our international profile,” he said.