Fresh off the massive success of hosting the FIP World Polo Championship, the USPA National Polo Center-Wellington (NPC) is gearing up for its inaugural winter high-goal season. Most notably, the calendar will feature the return of the prestigious three-part Gauntlet of Polo series beginning in February. As NPC prepares for what will undoubtedly be a historic first season, after the USPA purchased the former International Polo Club Palm Beach last summer, let’s get to know the faces behind the newly rebranded facility, and the people who have worked tirelessly to turn a promising vision into reality.
Stewart Armstrong: Planting The Seed
The mastermind behind the USPA-owned facility, USPA Chair Stewart Armstrong first detailed his vision for a permanent center for polo in America in the Spring 2020 issue of Hurlingham Polo Magazine in an essay titled, “The Sunday Field.” In it, Armstrong discussed the vitality of the Brackenridge Park field for the San Antonio Polo Club in Texas, and how the disappearance of that shared resource in the 1970s forever altered and stifled growth of the sport in the area.
This lived experience propelled his idea of a perpetual Sunday field as a principal element in the health and well-being of a polo club. Believing polo will not thrive without a centrally located Sunday field to underpin growth, showcase teams, players and horses, as well as unite the wider community, Armstrong approached the USPA Board of Governors and proposed that the USPA acquire a communal facility to ensure longevity and prosperity of the sport in America. With this idea in mind, NPC will welcome not only high-goal tournaments, but also tournament play at all levels, guaranteeing inclusivity across all realms of the sport.
Now serving as the committee chair of USPA Sunday Field LLC, which will manage the polo operations of the center alongside NPC Polo Operations LLC, Armstrong continues to eagerly lead the USPA in the height of this new endeavor to establish NPC as the epicenter of American polo.
Armstrong’s polo knowledge and passion comes from a lifetime in the sport. A third-generation player, Armstrong’s grandfather was one of the founders of the San Antonio Polo Club and established a horse breeding program. Armstrong picked up the sport when he was 11 and never turned back. He achieved a 7-goal handicap and won the illustrious C.V. Whitney Cup twice in the 1980s. His experience both on and off the field has made him an exceptional leader for the USPA, especially during a time that offers many thrilling new changes and challenges for the association.
Charles Smith: Cultivating Growth
Recently elected as USPA president after formerly serving as secretary, Charles Smith has been extremely active in the creation of NPC, especially on the operations side, also serving as chair of NPC Polo Operations LLC.
Much like Armstrong, former 7-goaler Smith draws experience from an incredibly successful career in polo, joining the NPC leadership team as a three-time C.V. Whitney Cup winner, two-time USPA Gold Cup victor and five-time U.S. Open Polo Championship title holder. To recognize his talent and excellence in the sport, Smith was also inducted into the Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame in 2004. Smith hopes to use his deep understanding of polo to create both a competitive and enjoyable atmosphere for players and spectators.
At the USPA Fall Board of Governors meeting that took place in early November, Smith relayed important updates about NPC Polo Operations LLC, detailing a progress report of the ongoing polo-related renovations. Similarly, he discussed the plans to revitalize the stadium, parking areas and main entrance in a multi-phase renovation project scheduled around the 2023 winter season schedule.
Tim Gannon: Nourishing The Idea
Tim Gannon, co-founder of Outback Steakhouse and three-time U.S. Open Polo Championship winner, has been a vital contributor to the vision of NPC becoming a reality. Outside of creating an empire in the restaurant business, Gannon has a long and fruitful history in the sport. He began playing in 1992 and, as his passion grew, he created the Outback Polo team, which went on to win the U.S. Open five times, three of which he competed in. The team’s success also produced three consecutive wins in the prestigious competition (1999, 2000 and 2001), a feat that has not been duplicated since.
Off the field, Gannon is widely known as a selfless and devoted supporter of polo and its players. In 2013, he was the recipient of the Philip Iglehart Award, an honor that recognizes exceptional lifetime contributions to the sport. Continuing to remain connected to polo despite not being in the saddle, Gannon now chairs NPC’s Hospitality Operations Inc., setting his sights on reinvigorating the club’s offerings with his extensive experience in the food service industry. He is inspired to use his expertise to add to the culinary side of the club and elevate NPC into a great entertainment and dining experience.
At the USPA Fall Board of Governors meeting, Gannon discussed many of the projects that are ongoing in those areas. He detailed projects aimed at updating the hospitality facilities, expanding and modernizing the Mallet Grill kitchen, bringing in new culinary talent, investing more in catering, and uplifting the experience and what people can expect from the hospitality assets and the club.
Chris Green: Ensuring Longevity
After 40 years as a USPA member and several serving as a governor-at-large and active member of countless crucial USPA committees, Chris Green stepped into the role of chief operating officer/in-house counsel in July 2021. Green is involved in nearly every aspect of the facility and its operations, contributing to all three NPC-focused subsidiaries: USPA Sunday Field LLC, NPC Polo Operations LLC and NPC Hospitality Operations Inc.
Green’s connection to horses began in Lexington, Kentucky, where he grew up in the horse racing industry. He was introduced to polo in his 20s while attending the University of Kentucky and now plays outdoor polo at Giant Valley Polo Club in Hamden, Connecticut, and arena polo at Gardnertown Polo Club in Newburgh, New York. Green’s vast knowledge of the game and the rules, formerly serving as chair of the Rules/Rules Interpretation Committee, have made him an invaluable resource in launching NPC and generating early success for the facility.
An overall incredible achievement for the association and the sport of polo, NPC will and already is redefining the American polo experience thanks to the leadership of these individuals, alongside the hard work of many others within the United States Polo Association, NPC Polo Operations and NPC Hospitality Operations. This is only the beginning of a revitalized and prosperous future for American polo, with many more developments and opportunities on the horizon.
Visit www.nationalpolocenter.com to learn more about the USPA National Polo Center-Wellington.