Page 91 - The Montecito Journal Glossy Edition Summer Fall 2010

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bombardment on American soil since the War of 1812 – the polo fields
were given over to the military to station and train soldiers (which is
why the big 100 year centennial celebration doesn’t take place until
2011). Interest in the sport waned after that, as both the nation, and the
polo fields themselves, needed recovery from the war effort.
But by the mid-1950s, polo was back, eventually under the
auspices of Robert Skene, who as a player maintained a 10-goal rating
– the highest possible – for a remarkable 17 straight years. The fields
noted many milestones over the ensuing years. Santa Barbara hosted
the U.S. Open tournament in 1963 and again in 1966, the same year
the first trials for the U.S. team that later played in the famous Argentina
vs. America match in Buenos Aires were also held at the club.
Popularity surged again in the mid-1970s, when planning began
for the more permanent facilities at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet
Club, including the 140-plus condominiums facing the main field,
tennis courts, swimming pools, exercise track and increased stabling
for the horses, who are, of course, the main athletes of the sport. In
1998, the club hosted the World Cup of Polo, contested every three
years at different spots around the world. And it’s a little known fact that
the club also broke a gender barrier two years ago when two women
suited up for the same four-member team during 20-goal season.
Some of the greats of the game continue to grace SBPRC fields,
including Memo and Carlos Gracida, the famed brothers who first
arrived in the 1980s and played high goal during most years,
including 2009.
In fact, it was partly the top-notch polo that attracted Andy Busch,
heir to the Anheuser-Busch fortune and a four-goal rated polo player, to
relocate his family here about a decade ago.
“It’s the most competitive place to play in July and August of
anywhere in the world,” says Busch, who first played – and won – the
prestigious Pacific Coast Open at the SBPRC back in 1999, a feat he
repeated with his Grants Farm team again last summer. “Most of the
best players in the world come here to compete. We have world class
fields... and you can’t beat the weather.”
Indeed. Located just south of Summerland at the edge of
Carpinteria, SBPRC sits just across the 101 freeway from the blue
Pacific, and benefits greatly from the cool ocean breezes that keep
the heat index to a perfect polo playing temperature even while San
Fernando and Santa Ynez Valleys are sweltering.
Busch is also one of the patrons, or sponsors, of the teams that
compete during high-goal season, one of the aspects that sets polo
apart from other team sports. The sponsors – often corporate executives
and/or retired athletes from other sports – hire professionals to create
the nucleus of their team, spending millions to secure top touring
players and their stable of pure-bred polo ponies, and then get to play
alongside them.
“It’s like George Steinbrenner playing first base for the Yankees,”
Busch explains. “But you have to have that drive and motivation to get
in great shape and compete at the highest level you can.”
For 2010, the club has attracted perhaps the biggest superstar in
the sport, the 10-goal rated Adolfo Cambiaso, who helped his team
capture the U.S. Open championships in Florida in April.
“He’s considered to be the best polo player in the world,” says
Melanja Jones, who is assuming polo manager duties at SBPRC this
summer after helping out during the previous two high-goal seasons.
“Getting him to Santa Barbara this summer is a huge coup.”
Even Busch is impressed, and a little intimidated.
“He’s the Michael Jordan/Kobe Bryant of polo, so this really ups
the scales again,” he says. “The caliber of play just keeps getting better
and better.”
Although 20-goal season is the highlight of the summer, action
actually gets underway in May. The 8-12 goal league takes place in
late spring, with four two-week tournaments from May through June,
including the USPA Intra-Circuit event from June 16-27.
The big boys ride into town just 10 days later, though, as 20-goal
season comes to Santa Barbara July 7 through August 29. Action
begins with the Mayor’s Trophy (July 7-11), followed by 2 two-week
events, the Robert Skene Trophy, held July 14-25, and the USPA
Lucchese America Cup, which will be contested July 8-August 8.
All those tournaments, although important, mostly serve as warm-
ups for the Bombardier Pacific Coast Open, the granddaddy of them all,
a three-week affair pitting top players and ponies at the peak of their
powers. Matches take place every Thursday and Sunday, when SBPRC
can be the place to see and be seen in Santa Barbara, as socialites
dress to the nines to sit in the clubhouse, or families tailgate across the
other side of the field.
But you don’t have to mothball the mallets or banish the boots
when the horn sounds to signal the end of the final chukker of the
PCO. Although the action isn’t as fast-paced or high-scoring as during
the summer season, polo is played in Santa Barbara right up through
mid-October, with a 6-8 goal league, three more two-week tourneys,
covering the Harry East Memorial (September 9-19), the USPA
Presidents Cup (September 23-October 3), and the Wickenden Cup
(October 7-17), before the fields finally close on October 18.
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