By Sharon Robb
Polo returns for the highly anticipated fall and winter seasons in Wellington at the Grand Champions Polo Club. After enjoying an extremely successful summer season at the Aspen Valley Polo Club, its sister club, Grand Champions will host medium-goal and high-goal tournaments while celebrating its 17th anniversary this year.
The fall and winter seasons feature every level of polo, including the 26-goal World Polo League that begins its sixth season in February with the All-Star Challenge.
The World Polo League features some of the best polo players in the world, including Argentine 10-goalers Pablo Mac Donough and brothers Camilo and Barto Castagnola, along with Nic Roldan, the second highest ranked American at 8 goals.
The World Polo League, created by club owners Melissa and Marc Ganzi, has the distinction of being the only 26-goal polo played outside Argentina and offers some of the most competitive polo in Wellington.
The 2023 fall season commenced in October with medium-goal and high-goal tournaments, providing fun, competition and preparation for the winter season that gets underway in January 2024. Roldan heads the star-studded fall lineup that also features Martin Jauregui, Jason Crowder, Sugar Erskine and Grant Ganzi.
The fall medium-goal schedule features six tournaments, including the season-opening Fall Classic, the Tackeria Invitational, the Pedro Morrison Memorial and the Banyan Cup, all played in October.
The fall medium-goal season continues in November with the Fall Plates (Nov. 1-5) and the inaugural Casablanca Fall Cup (Nov. 8-12).
The Pedro Morrison Memorial, now in its 14th year, is played in honor of the avid polo player and patron of the Sympatico Polo team, who helped develop Wellington into a thriving equestrian community. The Tackeria Invitational also has a special place in club history as the inaugural tournament when the club first opened in 2007.
Among the season highlights are the Nov. 7-15 USPA North American Cup and the Nov. 11-21 USPA National 20-Goal Championship. This is followed by the Saturday, Nov. 25 doubleheader featuring the Legends of Polo Carlos Gracida Memorial and the International Cup with GCPC USA putting its undefeated 11-game win streak on the line against Spain. Grand Champions has been the only club in the nation to stage two USPA-sanctioned 20-goal tournaments during the fall season.
In last year’s International Cup, GCPC USA won its 11th consecutive title with a 6-5 win over Switzerland. Tomas Ruiz Guinazu, 39, a member of the 2022 Swiss National Team, was named Most Valuable Player.
Since 2012, in front of sellout crowds and a worldwide ChukkerTV livestream audience, the U.S. has defeated England, Chile, Mexico, South Africa, Uruguay, Brazil, Azerbaijan, France, Argentina (twice) and Switzerland in the annual battle for the coveted cup.
The well-organized fall and winter tournaments attract players from all over the United States and from around the world, including players from Argentina, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Ecuador, England, France, India, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, South Africa and Switzerland. Grand Champions also attracts several of the nation’s top American players.
The Grand Champions Fall Invitational League is geared toward improving a player’s polo skills at every level. Roster lineups change from tournament to tournament, with evenly matched teams featuring pro and amateur players. The fall league features stick-and-ball sessions during the week, two medium tournament games every weekend, ambulance and USPA umpires for all tournament games, world-class polo fields, club-sponsored social events every weekend for all players and top-of-the-line trophies for all teams every weekend.
The World Polo League season features the All-Star Challenge (Feb. 6-25), the Founders Cup (Feb. 22 to March 10), the Palm Beach Open (March 6-23), the Tommy Hitchcock Legacy Memorial (March 24), the Triple Crown of Polo (March 20 to April 13) and the Miami Beach Polo World Cup (April 19-21).
Three other high-goal tournaments are: the Feb. 1-11 Sterling Cup (20 goals), the Feb. 7-24 $100,000 World Cup (0-40 goals) and the Feb. 27 to March 10 Santa Rita Abierto (20 goals).
In addition to the prestigious World Polo League, the January through April winter season attracts men and women of all ability levels and offers 6, 8, 12 and 16-goal leagues, in addition to a weekly Polo School Women’s League, WCT Finals, several junior tournaments under the Polo Training Foundation umbrella and special events at the club’s 11 fields.
The Grand Champions Polo Club and Santa Rita Polo Farm is a unique, private 102-acre polo facility in Wellington with 212 stalls in nine self-contained barns, two exercise tracks, five climate-controlled tack rooms, a vet room, staff quarters, a guest house and four polo fields with state-of-the-art underground irrigation, short work arena and stick-and-ball fields.
Wellington-based ChukkerTV (CTV Sports) is livestreaming the entire fall and winter seasons, the only club in the world to do so, with Dale Schwetz calling the action in the fall, and Schwetz and Jan-Erik Franck during the winter. ChukkerTV’s state-of-the art technology also features team challenges and instant replay, which made their debut at Grand Champions in 2014.
The Grand Champions Polo Club and Santa Rita Polo Farm cater to men, women and youth polo players at all levels. Its expert staff can customize a complete playing experience, including horses, pros and certified umpires, in addition to lessons and practice sessions as part of its Polo on Demand program at the turnkey facility.
The Polo School, a nonprofit organization and stand-alone USPA club, is dedicated to teaching polo to all ages, particularly grassroots youth. Its mission is to provide individuals with opportunities in polo at every economic and ability level. The Polo School operates in Wellington January through June and September through November.
For more information on the fall and winter leagues or the Polo School, contact Juan Bollini at (561) 346-1099 or Cale Newman at (561) 876-2930.
The Grand Champions Polo Club is located at 13444 Southfields Road in Wellington. To learn more about the 2024 season, visit www.gcpolo.com.