Deeply imbedded in the fabric of the South Florida polo scene, Grand Champions Polo Club (GCPC) in Wellington, Florida, has become a household name and a fixture of innovation. Set on over 100 acres between the two properties of GCPC and Santa Rita Polo Farm, the club’s eleven fields host a wide range of tournaments up to 26-goal polo during the winter, spring and fall seasons. Established at the center of an international equestrian community and globally recognized high-density polo region, GCPC has flourished in the dynamic Florida Circuit for over ten years. Offering polo opportunities as diverse as the international flags which line the roadside, GCPC has made it their lifelong mission to promote low, medium and high-goal polo, creating and developing new players at all levels of the sport.
Since the club’s inception in 2007, the purpose has always been to inspire interest in polo by making it more accessible to everyone regardless of ability or where they fall on the economic spectrum. Founded by Marc Ganzi and his wife, current USPA Florida Circuit Governor, Melissa, GCPC began with only one leased field and has grown exponentially over the years. Tournaments are played in two Wellington locations, including the nearby Santa Rita Polo Farm home to high-goal teams Audi and Flexjet. Tucked away in the quiet, residential community of Wellington is a turnkey polo oasis at Santa Rita. The property features five self-contained barns with 120 stalls, an exercise track, five climate-controlled tack rooms, veterinarian wings, staff quarters, a guest house, and three polo fields with state-of-the-art underground irrigation. “Our idea was to create a club that’s open – accessible for kids, beginners, medium and high-goal players in a relaxed and friendly environment,” Melissa Ganzi explained. “In addition, the club would also provide American polo professionals a Wellington home base . . . as well as consistent job opportunities.” Creating a bridge of commonality and familiarity between players all across the globe, GCPC draws countless pros who return to their fields each year.
Aside from its ideal location occupying prime real estate in the United States’ largest polo hub, GCPC allows professional and young up-and-coming players the chance to become part of a network and seize career-altering playing opportunities. During the Fall 2017 season, GCPC was one of a few select clubs in the nation awarded two prestigious USPA-sanctioned 20-goal fall tournaments, the National Twenty Goal® and the Silver Cup®. The club was also the training site in October of 2017 for the U.S. team that competed in the XI FIP World Polo Championship in Sydney, Australia. Equally as appealing is the opportunity to learn and compete year-round, with summer polo available at the Ganzi’s sister club in Colorado, Aspen Valley Polo Club.
As part of GCPC’s overarching vision to grow polo across the spectrum, the club has pioneered unique and progressive tournament opportunities structured to include a broader range of players. Tournaments distinct to GCPC such as the $50,000 National 12-Goal single elimination and the $100,000 World Cup, open to teams handicapped 0- to 26-goals, are tangible evidence of an effort to create more competitive games. “We believe every level of polo is important to the growth, development and sustainably of the sport. Each of the various levels of polo give a player the opportunity to develop his or her skills and improve their game, whether they want to be a good low, medium or high-goal player,” Melissa Ganzi stated. “Both of these single-elimination tournaments are unique and have never been offered before with prize money. The fact that GSA, the youngest team ever to win the $50,000 National 12-Goal tournament, and underdog team Palm Beach Illustrated, won the $100,000 World Cup speaks volumes about how competitive these kinds of tournaments can be!” Implementing a tournament as open as the World Cup, GCPC has reintroduced a rare American opportunity for up-and-coming players to play against high-level teams and showcase their skills.
While active in the high-goal environment, GCPC equally makes a point to cater to the needs of men, women and youth players of varying levels with The Polo School’s unique ‘Polo on Demand’ program. Described by Melissa Ganzi as, “a continuum of polo to meet an individual’s every polo need,” students take part in a customized experience complete with horses, equipment, and certified umpires provided both at GCPC and Santa Rita. In keeping with the club’s vision, The Polo School is dedicated to giving anyone interested the opportunity to play polo from the grass roots level on to the highest level they aspire to reach. Instructor Juan Bollini, a former 8-goaler, has developed youth and adult players to the level of competitive leagues including Will Jacobs who debuted in the 2017 World Cup and played at the 2018 Miami Beach Polo Cup. GCPC’s Women’s Polo Weekly League managed by Alina Carta, attracts the attention of many female players. “Women’s polo is the largest and fastest growing sector in polo and by hosting events like these the sky is the limit for women’s polo,” Melissa Ganzi said excitedly.
Regarded for its relaxed atmosphere and casual tailgating, GCPC is a popular destination for both local Wellington residents and players to spectate from the sidelines. Throughout the week cars can be seen parading onto the property and lining the fields to catch the action from the comfort of their vehicles. Perfect for the polo novice, most games are free of charge and the club often serves complementary food and refreshments making for a wonderful first experience. “We love our fans and encourage everyone to come out and watch polo,” Melissa Ganzi remarked. “We have fans that have been with us since day one.” Retaining the family atmosphere of polo’s rich heritage, Grand Champions sees the return of loyal spectators for the friendly conversations and camaraderie found on the field side.
Since 2014, GCPC has propelled the sport forward through the aid of technology to broadcast their games all over the world with ChukkerTV, a state of the art livestreaming company. Through this platform the club has gained international recognition while simultaneously elevating the viewing experience for fans online and those attending live games. “We have had fans come to our games saying they saw it on ChukkerTV and wanted to watch a game in person,” Melissa Ganzi exclaimed, “and they keep coming back. We also have folks at the game watching ChukkerTV on their cell phones which enhances the game for first-timers, empowering them to learn more about polo, the rules, history, horses and interesting details about the game.” Livestreaming has increased the club’s momentum because it allows new fans the added benefit of an announcer’s knowledge, enabling them to better comprehend the game in front of them.
Cultivating an educated and engaged audience, GCPC is constantly seeking out unique opportunities beyond the grass to raise the public’s knowledge about polo. While snow and arena polo have been the Ganzi’s venture in Aspen, beach polo started off the 2018 season for GCPC with the Miami Beach Polo Cup which was broadcast by ChukkerTV. Often perceived as a novelty event, beach polo functions as a gateway to pique the interest of those who would not otherwise be exposed to the sport. “The trickle-down effect is that now people want to come watch and learn how to play polo at Grand Champions,” Melissa Ganzi revealed. “We enjoy being involved in every facet of polo whether it’s grass, arena, beach or snow polo – these are all on-ramps which foster and create interest in the sport in unique venues where polo can generate the highest levels of interest.”
Having accomplished so much for the sport of polo in eleven years, GCPC is invested in the future and focused on growing polo in America, an effort that will require collective participation of clubs. In her role as a USPA Circuit Governor, Ganzi looks at the greater picture of what clubs like hers can contribute individually to promote polo at all levels. “Every polo club is important and serves a purpose. I am proud of the Florida Circuit and the amazing clubs in the state that offer polo players every level and type of competition at every price point.” GCPC has taken many fresh steps in the right direction, creating an inclusive community bound together by the passion for polo.