The History of Polo
The first recorded game of Polo took place in 600 BC between the Turkomans and Persians (the Turkomans won). In the 16th Century the game was firmly established in Persia, India and China with a recognized size ground of 300 meters long. In 1850 British tea planters discovered the game in Manipur on the Burmese border with India. Twelve years later the tea planters in Manipur formed the first polo club in the world. Later that year the Calcutta Polo Club, the oldest existing polo club, was founded.
In 1869 Edward “Chicken” Hartopp, 10th Hussars, wrote an account of the game in The Field, while stationed at Aldershot, and, with brother officers, organized the first game – known then as “hockey on horseback” -on a hastily rolled Hounslow Heath against The 9th Lancers. The first polo club in England was formed in Monmouthshire.
Today, polo is played in 80 countries worldwide. It was an Olympic sport from 1900 to 1939 and has now been recognized again by the International Olympic Committee.
The California Polo Club – Est. 1876
According to historian Dennis J. Amato, polo in California took off in 1876 when the California Polo Club was established. One of the local worthies involved in the club was Captain Nell Mowry, who was a long-distance rider in the San Francisco Bay area. Mr. Amato raises the question that perhaps James Gordon Bennett (credited with introducing polo to the United States in 1876 in New York City) was somehow involved in the enterprise, because his research indicates that Capt. Mowry appears in reports related to James Gordon Bennett. Nevertheless, Dennis Amato’s evaluation is that it “was as best a fad that lasted several months and quickly died out.”
After the feeble attempt by Capt. Mowry to get polo going in California, it fell upon the English to revive the game in the 1880’s, when Mr. C.A. Summers and Captain Hutcheson established polo in Los Angeles. Once more, the efforts were unsuccessful. Nevertheless, persistence paid off and, in 1888, Dr. J.A. Edmonds, who had learned the game in Long Island, spearheaded the foundation of the Santa Monica Polo Club. Another of the founders, Senator John Jones, had a polo ground built, as well as a racetrack. In 1891, Robert Lee Bettner joined the group of Englishmen to establish the Riverside Polo Club.
Eventually, California had its own governing body, the “Pacific Coast Polo and Pony Racing Association”, which folded in 1909. British residents started it, and its rules of play were those promulgated by the Hurlingham Polo Committee, which included the concept of the offside position. The affiliated Clubs were Burlingame, Los Angeles, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Santa Monica and Coronado polo clubs – the latter being the first one to join the Polo Association in 1909. *
* Source: The Evolution of Polo by Horace A. Laffaye
Buried deep in the shelves of Yale University’s rare book collection in the Beinecke Library there is a four-page pamphlet with the title California Polo Club 1876. Historian Dennis J. Amato discovered this written proof of early polo in the Golden State some years ago. The publication is an advertisement for an event to be held at Charter Oak Park on 17 October 1876, offering feats of horsemanship, buck jumping and three games of polo. The pamphlet states that over 200,000 spectators have watched such polo events at Boston, Long Branch, Newport, Providence and Saratoga. Also included are the rules of the California Polo Club, the earliest known written rules of the game of polo in the United States. **
** Source: Polo in the United States: A History by Horace A. Laffaye
Polo, golf, and tennis were other avid California pursuits and were also showing the same progress from elite to middle-class usage as motoring and skiing. In the mid 1930s the City and County of San Francisco used PWA and WPA funds to clear a polo field in Golden Gate Park, adjacent to the St. Francis Riding Stables. One scans in vain the newspapers of the period in an effort to detect signs of community opposition or complaining letters to the editor regarding the use of public monies to facilitate this most elite of elite sports. Polo came early to California, with the formation of the California Polo Club in 1876.
In the 1890s polo was especially popular in the Anglo-Canadian community centered in Riverside in Southern California and, a little later, in the Burlingame Country Club south of San Francisco. The California Polo Annual for the 1913-14 season lists a busy schedule with matches held a the Hotel Del Coronado, at the Hotel Del Monte on the Monterey Peninsula, at Riverside, Pasadena, the Midwick Country Club in Monterey Park in the San Gabriel Valley near Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and Burlingame. The San Francisco Peninsula sustained a polo culture mature enough to support its own publication, the Peninsula Polo Annual, which chronicled the well-attended matches of the region.
Central to the success of polo in California was a father-and-son team: William Pedley of Riverside and Midwick Country Club, who had taken up polo in India while working there as an irrigation engineer, and his son Eric, a Stanford undergraduate just before World War I, who learned the game from his father and the great English player Hugh Drury, when Drury was living in Riverside. In 1921 Drury and Eric Pedley played for the Del Monte Polo Club and set new standards for the sport on the West Coast. By 1924 Pedley, then playing for Midwick, was leading a strong California team in the National Open of the United States Polo Association in Long Island. For the first time California Polo made an impression in the polo-savvy East. In September 1930 Pedley played for the United States against England, perhaps the high point of his career. Throughout the Depression, polo continued to thrive in California, with such celebrities as Will Rogers, who played at the Uplifters Ranch near Santa Monica, becoming prominent advocates of the sport. In San Francisco the Army polo team from the Presidio – for whose benefit the Polo Field in Golden Gate Park was largely created – continued to set high standards of sportsmanship throughout the decade. ***
*** Source: The Dream Endures: California Enters the 1940s by Kevin Starr
Although historians cite the origins of the Chicago Polo Club as dating back to 1893 during the World’s Fair, there are newspaper reports of the Chicago Polo Club being organized and play taking place in Chicago’s Lincoln Park as early as 1879. Local horsemen and athletes must have taken notice of the exhibition game that was staged at Dexter Park in June of 1876 when the California Polo Club staged a practice match and demonstration of horsemanship. ****
**** Source: Alex Webbe – Chairman, International Beach Polo Association
The Modern Era
California Polo Club opened its doors again in 1995 and is a current member of the United States Polo Association (USPA). Since then, California Polo Club has offered its members, students and guests quality instruction, emphasis on safety and club play at one of the top arena polo facilities in the world. For the last 18 years, the California Polo Club has been the place to learn and play polo in Los Angeles.
California Polo Club was the proud host of the U.S. Arena Polo Open, the most prestigious arena polo event in the world, in 2007, 2009 and 2011. The CPC team led by Domingo Questel won the Arena National Championship in 2011. Additionally, the club annually hosts numerous USPA sanctioned and local tournaments as well as Clinics by some of the world’s top polo instructors like Rege Ludwig and Tom Goodspeed.
The California Polo Club (CPC) is your ultimate Los Angeles polo destination. The club is located just 15 minutes from Hollywood and CPC offers members, students and guests the thrill of playing polo that is no longer reserved for only the elite. The California Polo Club offers full service horse training and boarding, year round club activities and a dedicated teaching facility. The club also offers opportunities for reciprocal play at nearby California grass clubs like the Santa Barbara Polo Club, Empire Polo Club, El Dorado Polo Club and San Diego Polo Club.
California Polo Club offers lessons and/or game play six days a week, Tuesday through Sunday. We welcome students and guests to join members for social events, such as our weekly summer cookouts. All matches are open and free of charge to the public.