COSEQUIN WINTER EQUESTRIAN FESTIVAL
It did not begin that way.
1t is now quite a civilized sport in Florida. especially at Palm Beach Polo and Country Club in Wellington. With its four-month schedule and most of the world's best players, Palm Beach Polo is acknowledged as the winter polo capital of the world.
Each team has four players, rated on a scale of-1 to 10 (the higher the better). Although the word goal is used after the rating, it bears no relation to the number of goals A player scores in a match, but to their ability. A player's horsemanship, hitting, quality of horses, team play, game sense and sportsmanship are the factors considered in determining his handicap.
The team handicap is the sum of its player`s handicaps. A 26-goal tournament means the total of all four player's handicaps must not be equal or below 26 goals.
What makes polo unique is that the team owner, or patron, is usually an active member of the quartet. It would be 1ike George Steinbrenner playing first base for the New York Yankees.
The lO-goalers are the Babe Ruths and Michael Jordans of their sport. There are only I5 members in this elite club and eight -- Mariano Aguerre, Mike Azzaro, Adolfo Cambiaso, Lalo Castagnolo, Carlos Gracida, Memo Gracida, Pite Merlos and Sebastian Merlos -- will play at Palm Beach Polo during the 1999 season. No other club in the United States will get more than four at any one time.
While the rich and famous have become synonymous with polo, especially in Wellington, spectators are from every walk of life and many enjoy the ambience and people-watching.
On a field measuring 300 by 160 yards, the action is fast and thrilling. Teams exchange ends after every.~.oat to even out field and weather conditions -- and possibly confuse novice spectators.
Polo's version of March Madness begins in earnest at Palm Beach Polo with two of the three highest-rated tournaments in the country -- the U.S. Open and Gold Cup of the Americas. At least 10 teams are expected to enter these tournaments in 1999.
The other major tournament in the United States, the 26-goal Gold Cup, is held at Royal Palm Polo, usually with a maximum of six teams.
The polo season in Florida begins in mid-December or early January and continues through the end of April. Other clubs include Gulfstream in Lake Worth, Gateway in Fort Myers, Millwood in Citra, Tampa Bay, The Villages in Lady Lake and Windsor in Vero Beach.
No matter what month, the National Polo Museum and Hall of Fame is open in Lake Worth, showcasing the history and top players. For information, call 561/969-3210.
For information about Palm Beach Polo, call 561/793-1440. For information about Royal Palm, Polo, call 561/994-2552. For information about Sarasota Polo Club, call 94I/907-0000.