GPL Tournament Returns This Month for 10th Anniversary EventOn and off the field, the International Gay Polo Tournament, hosted by the Gay Polo League in Wellington, keeps getting bigger and better, and the upcoming 10th anniversary celebration is maintaining that tradition.GPL founder Chip McKenney had a vision, and it has given way to something unique.
This year’s four-day extravaganza is highlighted by the return of the festive “GPL Polotini Presents Wigstock!,” an over-the-top pre-party for a purpose on Friday, April 5 at the members-only Mallet Grill at International Polo Club Palm Beach, followed by tournament games featuring the coveted Senator’s Cup and the famed tailgate competition on Saturday, April 6 at IPC’s Isla Carroll field.
“From the beginning, I dreamed that the GPL’s International Gay Polo Tournament would evolve into a destination event for LGBTQ polo players,” said McKenney, who has played every year since the event’s inception. “I believed the concept was unique and would be embraced by the LGBTQ community as something different and special. That said, I never dreamed the event would attract the attention and support of people outside the LGBTQ communities. Nor did I envision that the non-polo, social aspects of the event would evolve into what they are today.”
Several professional polo players, including Joey Casey, Charlie Muldoon, Sugar Erskine and Tiffany Busch, donate their time and skills, quarterbacking the teams.
“Through their involvement, these professional players give the GPL tournament a legitimacy of sport, and their participation helps to elevate awareness of the GPL tournament to the global polo community,” McKenney said.
Casey, who owns the Palm City Polo Club in Boynton Beach, was instrumental in helping McKenney get the event going.
“I read about the GPL and reached out to Chip 10 years ago and brought them to Florida,” said Casey, a fourth-generation polo player.
In that article, McKenney expressed a goal to one day bring the GPL to Wellington because it is the epicenter of polo in North America.
“Joey sent me an e-mail expressing his support and willingness to help make it possible for GPL to come to Florida,” McKenney said. “He offered to organize pros and ponies for our group. Since our initial contact, Joey and his team have been instrumental in the shaping and growth of the league. His club embraced GPL members without hesitation, and we are grateful for his involvement.”
Former 6-goaler Muldoon helped Casey run a polo clinic for GPL players, and that’s where he met McKenney.
“I loved the idea of promoting how inclusive our sport is,” said Muldoon, another multi-generational polo player. “It has been an honor and pleasure to be a part of it. It’s also crazy fun.”
Muldoon said the level of polo has progressed because the original group has improved so much due to Casey’s coaching, as well as the addition of so many new international GPL players.
McKenney began playing polo in 2006 after retiring from show jumping. Schedule permitting, he practices and plays polo three times a week at the Palm City Polo Club. When he began, he only played arena polo. Now he primarily plays on the grass in 6-goal tournaments and an occasional 10-goal tournament.
“My understanding of polo is probably the area I have improved the most,” McKenney said. “Understanding the strategy, the rules and how to contribute as a team member has opened up the game for me. When I first began, I simply ran to the ball and tried to hit it, often failing. Once I understood the offense and defense sides of the game, I enjoyed the sport much more.”
While the action on the field has improved, it is the colorful sideline activities that provides the flair of the event.
“The level of enthusiasm and support non-polo players, gay and straight, demonstrate for the event is remarkable,” McKenney said. “Everyone who has attended our event is thrilled by the tailgate competition, which has become a huge part of the event’s culture, and significantly contributes to the overall experience. Tailgates encourage interaction between all the people who come to the tournament, so our event is inclusive and engaging in ways other events are not.”
Every year brings a new layer of quality to the event, McKenney added, who explained that the biggest difference between the first year and now is the level of play.
“Our first year, most of us were new to the sport of polo, so the matches were a bit slower and less competitive,” McKenney said. “Now, many of our players are solid in their polo skills, which has significantly resulted in more advanced polo matches. To non-polo players, probably the biggest difference is the growth in the number of attendees. The first year, we had approximately 900 people come cheer us on. This year, we anticipate close to 5,000 people who will share the day with us.”
Every year, the GPL chooses a charity partner. This year, the not-for-profit partner is Sage, the nation’s oldest and largest organization dedicated to serving and advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender seniors.
“It is a great feeling to be able to use our event to raise awareness and much-needed funds for an organization that provides services to a segment of our community that is often overlooked, underserved and relatively invisible,” McKenney said.
From the beginning, the tournament was a team effort, with dozens of volunteers and committees organizing the biggest party of the polo season.
“I had the good fortune to align with great people who shared my vision of creating and producing a high-end sporting event within the LGBTQ space,” McKenney said. “Over the past 10 years, so many people have contributed to turning my dream into a reality, and I am well aware that the current success of the GPL tournament is a shared success and the result of a shared vision.”
Tickets for the 10th annual International Gay Polo Tournament and its festivities are currently on sale at www.gaypolo.com/tickets.