Nestled within Central Florida’s largest and liveliest adult community, The Villages® Polo Club (TVPC) in The Villages, Florida, hosts tournaments during the spring and fall seasons, offering 6-goal and above. Sprawling across nearly 200 lush acres of beautiful pasture land dotted with majestic live oaks, TVPC is a fixture within the vast community. Attracting anywhere from 800 to 1,500 spectators for Friday and Sunday games, the club showcases a unique polo community of educated “Villagers” embracing the sport in their golden years. Just a stone’s throw away from both an equestrian hub in Ocala and the popular tourist destination Orlando, the club thrives in an atmosphere saturated by endless recreational activities. Although high attendance can be attributed in large part to The Villages® surrounding 120,000 residents, the club flourishes by actively enhancing the turnkey polo experience for players and encouraging the continued knowledge of its polo fans. It is this investment in those on both sides of the boards which has called for expansion of the club’s programs and facilities.
Formed in 1988 and actively hosting tournaments since 1997, the Villages Polo Club was inspired by the Oxford Polo Club, a small club in neighboring Lady Lake, Florida. Founded by veterinarians Dr. Bill and Manulani Lyall along with their son Lord Lyall, Oxford Polo Club would spark the interest of the growing Villages community nearby. Wanting to offer polo in the rapidly expanding retirement community, The Villages contacted Lord Lyall and hired him as club manager once the new club was erected. Today, Oxford Polo Club functions as a sister club to TVPC, hosting 4-goal and below, as well as green horse chukkers on Saturdays. This partnership with the clubs enables Oxford Polo Club to serve as the training grounds for both children and professionals with their green horses who frequently play on the weekends.
Since inception, TVPC has benefitted from its populous residential location, making the process for visiting players smooth and convenient. “Being inside The Villages adds a very different dynamic that people wouldn’t expect,” club manager Paige McCabe revealed. “Everything is accessible by golf car* so as a player you come here and can rent a cabana right on the town square. Then just drive your golf car to the barn, it’s very easy and unique.” Because the polo grounds are approximately four miles away from the central town square, Market Square at Lake Sumter Landing, players can move about quickly and just as freely as the residents do. TVPC has not stopped there however, undertaking a recent endeavor in the form of a major construction project geared at creating the ultimate “polo campus.” Additions currently underway include three new barns and two groom’s quarters, providing six bedrooms for grooms to stay at in one central compound. Also in the works is a brand-new, all-weather exercise track and 48 stalls. “Literally the players show up and we have convenient housing that comes with a golf car right here on the property, practice fields they can ride to from the barn, and an exercise track,” McCabe said. “Everything you need is encompassed in our one small facility.”
Known for their emphasis on women’s polo, The Villages Polo Club has supported and hosted several important women’s tournaments over the years. The U.S. Open Women’s Handicap took residence at the club throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s. Just this past weekend, TVPC’s famous ladies 12-14 goal tournament, Florida Circuit Women’s Challenge, attracted female professionals such as Gillian Johnston and Hope Arellano. Earlier this year TVPC was chosen as the venue for several Florida Circuit tournaments including a Masters Cup, Constitution Cup and Intra-Circuit Cup.
While many clubs tend to operate with only the players’ needs in mind, TVPC has embraced the enthusiasm of fans and used it as an opportunity to cultivate an educated spectatorship. Resident crowds can be seen lining the idyllic fields in their golf cars during weekly spring or fall season practices, but they come out in full force to tailgate and pack the covered stadium for the main games. Engagement is so high that in 1994 The Villages Polo Booster Club was formed, a self-sufficient organization that has grown over the years to more than 500 active members. The mission of the group is to have the most enthusiastic and best educated fans, and TVPC facilitates this by organizing Polo 101 through 104 classes every season. “Polo 101 is just your basic introduction to the game. We talk about the rules, strategy and player positions,” McCabe explained. “In 102 we go more in depth about some aspect of strategy, a day in the life of a player and what players do to prepare for the game. The 103 class focuses on the horse specifically and we might bring in a guest speaker, usually an equine veterinarian or a farrier.” For more advanced spectators, 104 is an annual rules clinic with USPA head umpire instructor, Steve Lane, typically held at the end of the fall season in November.
Generating and retaining impressive crowd turnout and interest has naturally evolved into the need for an on-site polo school, recently breaking ground on October 1, 2017. Head polo instructor of TVPC’s newly established polo school is Mike Harris, formerly an instructor at Palm City Polo Club in Boynton Beach, Florida. With a string of club ponies available for the program, group lessons are now being held on Saturday’s at Oxford Polo Club. “Oxford is a great tool for us as far as lessons go because once we get students riding and hitting, the next step is to put them in chukkers,” McCabe said. “This is very slow, friendly polo where we’ll put a pro on each team and they may even stop the chukker to explain rules. We use that as a stepping stone to The Villages which offers 6-goal and above.”
Looking ahead to the future, TVPC has plans to host Certified Polo Instructor (CPI) clinics for the first time as well as an umpire certification clinic. “We want to use our club as a training ground, both for players and umpires because we do have that turnkey experience available,” McCabe stated. “The idea is fun, competitive Florida polo, but also at affordable prices.” Equipped with the ideal facilities to streamline the tournament experience as well as the infrastructure of a spectator friendly club, TVPC is developing into the picture of the model polo campus, designed with everyone in mind.
For more information on The Villages Polo Club please visit their website at www.thevillagespoloclub.com and “Like” The Villages Polo Club on Facebook.
Photos courtesy of ©Dave Boege