Meet Toronto Polo Club

Toronto, Ontario – September 26, 2017 – When one considers the numerous clubs that form the United States Polo Association, many might not consider our neighbors to the north. While Affiliate Member clubs in Canada may not exert equal voting power as American clubs, they hold all the same benefits and privileges of an Active Member Club. Not only are they able to host Association events, register members and assign handicaps—but their commitment to the sport and their support of its growth cannot be overlooked. In fact, their efforts should be doubly applauded, for in spite of their inability to take part in major Association decisions their devotion and dedication to the sport is exemplary. Toronto Polo Club (TPC) located in Toronto, Ontario, is one such club that has thrived for nearly six decades and today, boasts one of the largest memberships in Canada.

Women's players Annabel Begg (right) and Ryan Roy (left) battle for possession during the Polo for Cure Final.
Women’s players Annabel Begg (right) and Ryan Roy (left) battle for possession during the Polo for Cure Final.

In contrast to many club histories and despite Canada’s infamously cold winters, interestingly, the club was formally established in 1960 by the late Colonel M.C. Sifton, instigated by his desire for a winter equestrian hobby. “Dad was in the show world,” said Club Delegate Cliff Sifton, son of the club founder, “and he and two or three of his buddies that had hunters and jumpers were looking for something to do in the winter time and decided to take up polo. They tracked down [Stephen] ‘Doc’ Roberts the famous coach from Cornell [University in Ithaca, New York], did a couple clinics down there and then Doc and dad became great friends thereafter.” Today, the club has grown to include three unique facilities, over 70 playing members and polo almost twelve months out of the year. “We’re proud of the fact that we have 75 active players ranging in age from 10 to 70 years old,” said Sifton. Along with a solid indoor season which runs from October until April, the club has naturally developed a successful outdoor grass season which runs from May until September.

Mich Ward keeps his eye on the ball, Andrew Begg in defence at the 2017 Polo for Heart.
Mich Ward keeps his eye on the ball, Andrew Begg in defence at the 2017 Polo for Heart.

Not only does the club offer the possibility of polo in every season, but the diversity of playing options are seemingly endless. “There are essentially three sets of facilities,” said Sifton, “three different ownership groups, some crossover, and we need all three to make the club as dynamic as it is.” Remarkably this focus on cooperation has allowed the club access to an impressive seven outdoor fields, two outdoor arenas, one indoor arena and two polo schools—all within a 60-kilometer radius (that’s roughly 37 miles for those readers not well versed in the metric system) north of Toronto!

The Toronto Polo Club headquarters are located at Fox Den Farm in Gormley (North Richmond Hill), Ontario, home to both the Toronto Polo Club Interscholastic and Western University Intercollegiate teams, which practice at the club’s only indoor arena, housed on the facilities. Coach Scott Weir, who was involved in the development of the Certified Polo Instructor program and now serves as a Certifier, coaches both teams and manages the polo school.

Arena action at Fox Den Farms.
Arena action at Fox Den Farms.

The indoor arena is complete with a temperature controlled viewing lounge that overlooks the action. “We encourage non-playing family members to come out and watch,” says Sifton, who insists that spectators will stay nice and toasty while catching the competition three days a week during the colder winter months. During the summertime, practice is held bi-weekly on the two fields at this location, as well as the highlight of the summer season, the corporate charity event “Polo for Heart.” Recently celebrating its thirty-eighth year, the three-day polo event has raised more than $5.5 billion for heart and stroke related charities. The event also introduced the newly minted “Polo Under the Stars” with a featured outdoor match lit by industrial-sized floodlights brought in specifically for the occasion.

Just west of Fox Den Farm in King Township lies the Bancroft Farm, owned and operated by Brian O’Leary who manages a polo boarding facility and the club’s second polo school. Offering a beautiful grass field and an outdoor arena, the Bancroft facilities allow for a “swing” spring and fall season; when conditions on the grass fields are not ideal, but the temperatures are still nice enough to play outdoor. According to the Toronto Polo Club website, “occasionally, when conditions are right, the club has also played snow polo in this arena.” Club Manager Karen White admits that this novelty competition has only happened on one or two occasions. “You need special shoes for that, so we usually do it around the snow polo event at Mont-Tremblant in Quebec [held in March].”

Snow polo at Bancroft Farm, owned and operated by Brian O'Leary.
Snow polo at Bancroft Farm, owned and operated by Brian O’Leary.

Amid the quiet agricultural countryside, 45 minutes north of Fox Den Farm, are the Alliston facilities, TPC’s third club location. Three fantastic grass fields are surrounded on one side by a row of privately-owned barns and houses. Toronto’s most competitive polo takes place in Alliston with low and medium goal club sign-up and pro-am style tournaments. Games are held on the weekends followed by a traditional Argentine asado or gorgeous Sunday brunch beautifully presented on a series of white linen clad picnic tables.

“We try to offer whatever someone wants to play, we hopefully have it all,” said White. “If you want to play competitive, Alliston has the tournaments, and if you just want to play some fun club chukkers, Fox Den [Farm] has that on Tuesday and Thursday nights. The indoor season is such a great tool for any of our new players. They get a real handle on the game before they get out on the grass. But it’s more casual, it’s more friendly and social. We are hopefully appealing to the demands of what everyone wants.”

Traditional Argentine asado at the Alliston fields.
Traditional Argentine asado at the Alliston fields.

The club’s best kept secret however, and the key to their decades long success, boils down to their history of successful youth programs. “We have such a huge influx of young players,” exclaimed White, “which is really helping our club sustain year after year; the young players are coming in and becoming the really good players, and this is happening as older players are stepping back a little bit—we’ve got that regeneration.” Spanning three decades the club boasts a remarkable eight National Interscholastic Championships (1977, 1979, 1984, 1987, 1988, 2006-2008) and one National Intercollegiate Championship in 1980 by TPC members attending York University. In recent years, Western University in London, Ontario, began an intercollegiate team consisting entirely of Toronto Polo Club members. Last year, in only their second year they reached the semifinals of the National Intercollegiate Championship. Meanwhile most recently, Toronto Polo Club’s women’s interscholastic team qualified for the 2017 Girls’ National Interscholastic Championship.

1977 National Interscholastic Champions: St. Andrews College - (L to R) Don Bolton, Dave Offen, Mike Sifton Jr., Cliff Sifton, Dave Calveryly, Mike Sifton Sr.
1977 National Interscholastic Champions: St. Andrews College – (L to R) Don Bolton, Dave Offen, Mike Sifton Jr., Cliff Sifton, Dave Calveryly, Mike Sifton Sr.

Their youthful prowess does not solely exist in the arena however, “Toronto [Polo Club] has been a huge NYTS [(National Youth Tournament Series)] program supporter and have produced an impressive crop of youth polo players!” exclaimed Amanda Snow, USPA Polo Development, LLC Director of Player Development. Avid participants, TPC has hosted a qualifying event every year since the program’s inception and have been the sole source of Canadian representatives for almost every NYTS Championship for the Cecil Smith Cup.

Toronto Polo Club's Evan White Jr. representing Zone 2 celebrates a win over Zone 3 in the 2015 National Youth Tournament Series Championships. ©Elizabeth Hedley
Toronto Polo Club’s Evan White Jr. representing Zone 2 celebrates a win over Zone 3 in the 2015 National Youth Tournament Series Championships. ©Elizabeth Hedley

A combination of extensive facilities and an emphasis on cooperation have allowed Toronto Polo Club to mature into a dynamic club, rivaling many Active Member Clubs in the United States. “Diversity is what makes it really interesting for me. We share a common bond and love of the horse and love and respect of the game,” stated Sifton. Their commitment to the development of young players and the recent resurgence of their intercollegiate and interscholastic programs proves youth is the key to sustainability. To learn more about Toronto Polo Club, please visit their website at www.torontopoloclub.com and follow them on Facebook and Instagram (@torontopoloclub).

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