WELLINGTON, FL—April 27, 2017----On a perfect day for polo at Grand Champions Polo Club, the Navy knocked off the Army and Grand Champions to win the Power Horse Invitational during the USPA Military Polo Experience.
While there is always an intense rivalry when the Army and Navy get together, it was more fun than battle among the three teams in a spirited round-robin tournament held Wednesday at one of the nation’s busiest and most innovative polo clubs.
Navy (Karl Hilberg, Melissa Ganzi, Paul Knapp, Alejandro Novillo Astrada) defeated Grand Champions (Lolly Stanhope-White, Tommy Graff, Markus Graff, Pablo Dorignac), 2-1, and Army (Mark Gillespie, Terrence Donahue, Jesse Bray, Juan Bollini), 3-1. In the other two-chukker game, Army defeated Grand Champions, 3-2.
Ganzi, Bray and Stanhope-White, making her final U.S. appearance for the season before returning to Great Britain, each scored three goals.
Knapp, a U.S. Army veteran and coach of the Michigan State University polo team along with his wife Sarah, was named Most Valuable Player. Knapp has been playing polo for more than 30 years.
“I don’t think there is anything that compares in the equestrian world to polo,” said Knapp, who served in the 82nd Airborne Division, was part of the 1983 Grenada Invasion and had 32 jumps.
“This was great fun and great hospitality from Melissa Ganzi and she scored goals to help us win,” Knapp said.
“Today’s game was very competitive but friendly and a lot of fun. We had a lot of laughs out there."
Knapp grew up riding and showing horses. He went to Oregon State University where he went out for the polo team and has been playing ever since.
“I do love polo,” Knapp said. “I don’t know what I would do without polo.”
Knapp was joined by other military veterans Karl Hilberg, Terrence Donahue and Mark Gillespie.
Hilberg is chairman of the Armed Forces Committee for the USPA. The mission of the committee is to recognize the great history and connection between polo and the Armed Forces. It hopes to create opportunities to support and bridge the Armed Forces and polo communities through the promotion of events such as Grand Champions’ USPA Military Polo Experience and to increase military participation in polo.
Hilberg retired from the Navy 18 months ago after serving for 28 years. He first started playing arena polo in Newport, Rhode Island with the Navy War College Polo Club. He started playing field polo in Egypt, where he was stationed for three years. Now living in Texas, he plays both arena and field polo.
“I had an awesome time today,” Hilberg said. “This was all due to the generosity of Melissa. This is the highest goal polo I have played outside of arena polo.”
Donahue grew up riding horses and started playing polo at age 11 in California. He played Interscholastic polo and played 20-goal practice games in Santa Barbara. When he was young he groomed for Adam Snow, Kris Kampsen and Jason Crowder.
“My mom played polo so I have been playing almost my whole life,” Donahue said. “I love it. I never stopped playing. It’s great.”
Donahue finished six years of active duty in the Army where he also served in the 82nd Airborne Division. He returned from Iraq last year and now owns his own security firm in Hollywood, Calif. Because of his job, he plays polo once every two weeks.
“Today was fantastic,” Donahue said. “Sunny day in Florida on a horse playing polo is great. Anything on a horse and I am happy. Getting to play with these guys and against an 8-goaler is even better.
“Do I mind losing to the Navy? A little bit, yeah, a little bit. This was better than I normally play. I could go up for passes. It was different from low goal polo which I normally play and is always fun.
“We changed our strategy halfway through the game and it ended up working but it was too late. It was still a lot of fun. I will come back any time.”
Gillespie, who learned to play polo in graduate school at Yale, appreciates the connection between the military and polo. He was a professor at West Point where he learned how to ride.
In the early 1900s, polo spread across the United States as a result of the U.S. Army’s reliance on horses. At the height of the sport’s popularity in the 1930s, there were 1,500 military players, far outnumbering civilians playing the sport. Army General George S. Patton once said it was one of the best sporting preparations for modern combat. Today, there are about 40 active military players throughout the world, Gillespie said.
“I was hooked on polo the first time I tried it,” said Gillespie, who retired from the Army in 1997. He now owns a drone company in the Orlando area and lives in Virginia.
“It’s nice to keep this event going and we are very grateful to Melissa for all the support she’s been giving military polo over the years. She’s invited us to get something going at Aspen Valley Polo Club around the Fourth of July.”
Gillespie, who has been involved in polo since 1983, enjoyed the mix of pros, amateurs and military players in Wednesday’s game.
“It was very competitive,” Gillespie said. “Any time you get military guys going against each other it’s ‘Katy bar the door.’ Of course, we had to loan the Navy our big gun (Paul Knapp).
“Today’s game was lots of fun. Everyone was good sports and gentlemanly in their conduct. It’s just a joy to play down here. All the horses were fantastic.”
Grand Champions hosts polo tournaments ranging from six to 26-goal in addition to special events such as the Power Horse Invitational during the USPA Military Polo Experience at its’ eleven well-manicured fields during the fall, winter and spring seasons.
The spring season is being live-streamed on Wellington-based ChukkerTV, worldwide leaders in polo broadcasting.
Grand Champions Polo Club caters to men, women and youth polo players at all levels. Its’ expert staff can customize a complete playing experience including horses, pros and certified umpires in addition to lessons and practice sessions as part of its’ Polo On Demand program, the only polo club in the U.S. to offer the unique program.
The Polo School at Grand Champions, a 501c3 organization, is dedicated to teaching polo to all ages, particularly grass roots youth. Its mission is to provide individuals opportunities in polo. The Polo School operates in Wellington January through June and September through November.
2017 GRAND CHAMPIONS SPRING SCHEDULE
(Subject to change because of weather and scheduling conflicts).
APRIL 27-30: Grand Champions Cup, Sunday, Final 9:45 a.m.
APRIL 28-30: USPA Eastern Challenge, Friday, Newport vs. Dutta Corp, 11 a.m., GCPC Field One; Clearwater/La Indiana vs. Whitehall Ranch vs. Power Horse, 4:30 p.m., GCPC Field 3; Sunday, Final, 11 p.m.
MAY 5-7: USPA Sun Cup
MAY 12-14: The Spring Challenge Cup.
MAY 19-21: Polo Gear Invitational.
MAY 26-29: The Memorial.
GRAND CHAMPIONS POLO CLUB
WHERE: 13444 Southfields Road, on the corner of South Shore Boulevard and Lake Worth Road, Wellington, 33414.
INFORMATION: For spectators, there are great field side views for tournament action and also the Grand Champions Polo Club Boutique. The club is home base for pro teams Audi and Flexjet. Everyone is welcome to watch every level of polo in a relaxed atmosphere with food and refreshments during the featured games of the winter, spring and fall tournament seasons and other special events. Admission is free except for some special events.