For many households during the Wellington winter season, the morning drill is the same: wake up, put on a pot of coffee and call the International Polo Club Palm Beach’s high-goal polo hotline to find out what is happening that day. Every Sunday, and often on weekdays — even on holidays — it’s game on at IPC. In 2017, IPC will host 17 weeks of the world’s most exciting polo, starting on New Year’s Day.
It is indeed a new year for polo in Wellington. IPC was purchased at the end of the 2016 high-goal polo season by a new partnership headed by Mark Bellissimo. Players and spectators alike will see an enhanced polo experience this season, with major improvements made to the fields. Special attention was given to upgrading the stadium field, where Sunday’s featured matches are held.
“We are confident that it will be an exciting season,” said Bellissimo, underscoring his commitment to preserving and advancing polo in Wellington. “We are going to ensure that polo at IPC continues long into the future.”
Bellissimo added that his partnership plans to make more significant investments into the polo venue after the 2017 season.
Spanning nearly 250 acres, IPC is the largest and most spectator-friendly polo facility in the United States. It attracts the megastars of polo, including the renowned Adolfo Cambiaso of Argentina, the top player in the world. Most years, IPC is the only place in the United States where fans can watch Cambiaso in action. He and other elite players pilot polo ponies at speeds that can reach 35 miles per hour across a sweeping field that dwarfs the size of a football field.
Polo matches at IPC are open to the public, with a wide range of seating options, including elegant grandstand viewing, field tailgating, bleachers and stadium seating overlooking the main field, known as Field 1.
Spectators hail from around the globe, including Europe, South America, South Africa and Canada. They find a welcoming environment that encourages spectator involvement. On Sundays, crowds pour from the grandstand and sidelines during halftime for the traditional “divot stomp,” when everyone is invited onto the field to step on tufts of turf unearthed by the horses’ hooves. It’s more for fun than necessity, since the fields are professionally groomed during in the game. At most Sunday divot stomps, spectators enjoy complimentary refreshments while they mingle with celebrities and see head-turning fashion.
Whether one prefers a low-key match on the backfields during the week or Sunday’s 3 p.m. featured stadium game, IPC offers options for all levels of polo enthusiasts. At weekday games, which are free to the public, spectators bring lunch or purchase food from vendors and watch from their tailgates. During the week and on some Saturdays, famous players watch from the sidelines, casually mingling with the public.
Created with players and spectators in mind, IPC includes eight state-of-the-art playing fields. They can accommodate multiple games simultaneously, ensuring that the action continues from the first to the last game of the day.
Unlike some equestrian sports, polo is not difficult to understand. Envision a hockey game on horseback, with four players on each team. One team wins; the other loses. The game is scored objectively — either the ball goes through the goal posts or it doesn’t. Expert commentary is broadcast field side at every match, and the announcer explains the action so spectators can fully understand and enjoy the game.
A special event traditionally held Valentine’s Day weekend is the 40-goal Polo for a Purpose charity match. The event raises money for the Polo Players Support Group, which provides financial and other assistance to seriously ill or injured players, grooms and other members of the polo community. This exhibition game features the pinnacle of polo in the United States and attracts legends of the sport, many of whom have held the sport’s highest rating of 10 goals.
The 2017 polo season will open with IPC’s series of 20-goal tournaments: the Herbie Pennell Cup (Dec. 28, 2016 through Jan. 1, 2017); the Joe Barry Cup (Jan. 4-22); the Ylvisaker Cup (Jan. 25 – Feb. 19) and the Iglehart Cup (Feb. 22 – March 4).
In keeping with tradition, IPC will then host the nation’s three most prestigious 26-goal polo tournaments: the United States Polo Association (USPA) C.V. Whitney Cup (Feb. 22 – March 5), the USPA Gold Cup (March 5-26) and the 113th U.S. Open Polo Championship (March 29 – April 23).
The 2017 season concludes with the 113th U.S. Open final on April 23, capping the most prestigious polo competition in the country. Last season’s final was a true nail-biter. Steve Van Andel’s Orchard Hill team won its first-ever U.S. Open. Orchard Hill will be back this year to defend the title.
IPC is located at 3667 120th Avenue South in Wellington. For tickets and additional information, visit www.international poloclub.com or call (561) 204-5687. The high-goal polo hotline, which is updated throughout the day in the case of field changes or rescheduled games, can be reached at (561) 282-5290.