Eye on the Prize
eff Hall no longer calls Montecito his permanent home. Although he
spent his formative years in the village, attending Cold Spring School
and Santa Barbara Junior High School, he hasn’t lived here outside of
summers since the age of 12, which also happens, not coincidentally, to be
when he followed polo mentor Sapo Caset to Argentina to hone his game.
“My father moved to Texas, my mother to Utah, and by that time
I already knew I wanted to be a professional polo player, so I went to
Argentina,” recalls Hall, who played his first tournament at the age of seven at
the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club (SBP&RC). “My dad sent me with
them to learn from the best. They took care of me. There’s not much trouble
you can get into on a big polo ranch. All we did was ride horses and play polo
all day long.”
By that point, Hall had already been playing polo for half his life.
“I knew since I was six that it was the only thing I wanted to do. Nothing
ever got in the way,” Hall explains. “I just love the horses. I love the game, the
sport, the competition and the lifestyle that goes with it. My father played, my
brothers played and my whole family rode. I just took it in the direction of
going all the way. I wanted to push myself to go as far as I could in the sport.”
It was in Argentina that Hall got his big break, getting the opportunity
to join a professional team back in the United States, sort of the way punk
rock bands used to have to go to the U.K. to get noticed back in the 1970s
“It’s funny that I got discovered over there, but that’s how it works
sometimes,” he says. “Polo just isn’t as big a sport over here, because everybody
plays basketball or football or baseball. But it’s huge in Argentina, where
almost everybody knows how to ride a horse and polo is right up there with
soccer and rugby. It is growing here and getting better. But it will never be on
the same scale.”
Hall hit a high of 8 goals in his player rating, but is now playing with a
7 as his handicap, which still ranks him among the highest achievers among
native-born Americans. But now he admits that he might never reach his
dream of achieving 10-goal status, the highest designation reserved for only a
handful of players at any given time.
“You need everything to go right at the same time,” he explains,
noting that politics is also a part of the sport. “I needed some more
horses, and to be on the right teams, and catch some breaks. But it
didn’t happen. And then I got to a point in my career where I needed
to get a lower handicap in order to get on some teams in Florida
where you can make the most money.”
But that hasn’t stopped him from vying for the Bombardier
Pacific Coast Open during high-goal season at the SBP&RC. He
played in the tournament more than a dozen times before finally
capturing the crown back in 2009 as part of the Grants Farm team
sponsored by his good friend and longtime Montecito resident Andy
Busch. With Busch sitting out the 20-goal season in 2013 for the first
time, Hall has joined ERG for the summer season in Santa Barbara.
He’s once again renting a house in Summerland for the summer
to be close to both the beaches – where he surfs when the waves are
up – and the Polo Club, since he goes back and forth between the
stables and his house at least three times every day.
“I love it there because it’s beautiful and you don’t have to deal
with the traffic or anything,” he says. “You can just focus on the polo.
I hardly even go downtown when I’m here, because, to be honest,
we’re either practicing or riding or playing a game during the daytime,
and I spend the rest of the time with my family at the barn or the
beach. Santa Barbara is a beautiful place for polo. So everything is
like one big vacation rolled into my work anyway. And I can’t get too
crazy like going mountain biking, because if I get hurt I can’t play.”
He hasn’t even pursued his outside passion of flying private
planes, even though he earned a pilot’s license several years back,
citing time constraints.
“I was flying helicopters a lot a couple of years ago, but I just ran
out of time,” he says.
Hall did allow that he likes to dine out in Montecito, visiting
such tried-and-true eateries as Tre Lune, Trattoria Mollie, Lucky’s and
But while it’s nice to visit with old friends when he’s back in the
area, the main focus remains on winning the prestigious tournaments
at the SBP&RC.
“These are really big events in polo. The Pacific Coast Open has
a lot of history, and the trophy is over one hundred years old. It’s
awfully nice to put your name on the cup with all those other greats
from the past.”
by Steven Libowitz