By Sharon Robb
WELLINGTON, Fl., April 2, 2018--Grand Champions Polo Club and Valiente Polo Farm have joined forces to form the World Polo League which makes its debut in 2019.
Co-founders Marc and Melissa Ganzi of Grand Champions and Bob Jornayvaz of Valiente Polo Farm unveiled an exciting new 26-goal league that will run from Feb. 6 through April 15 to fill the void of 26-goal polo and have everyone working together to make polo the best it can be while continuing to preserve the highest level of polo.
In September 2017, the U.S. Polo Association, the sport's national governing body, announced that 22 goals would be the maximum level of polo played as of 2019 including the C.V. Whitney Cup, USPA Gold Cup and U.S. Open.
The 26-goal series, referred to as "The New Polo Experience" will be headed by Commissioner Dale Smicklas, 58, one of the most well-respected players in the sport. It will be available for all players and team sponsors who want to play the highest level of polo played outside Argentina, Smicklas said.
"This league will be about team owners all working for the good of the sport," Smicklas said. "It will be about taking care of those owners, players, grooms and all participants as well."
Smicklas' pro career spans more than 20 years during the glory days of polo. The former 8-goaler was one of the top American players in the sport and competed throughout the world including Argentina, England and the U.S. In 1987, he was a member of Silver Eagle-Carlsberg that won the $100,000 International Gold Cup at Royal Palm Polo Club and also reached the Rolex Gold Cup finals before losing to dynasty White Birch.
Four tournaments are scheduled: Feb. 6-17, All-Star Challenge; Feb. 20-March 2, The Founders Cup; March 6-24, The Palm Beach Open, and March 27-April 14, The Triple Crown. Significant prize money will also be offered.A first-of-its-kind All-Star Challenge Draw is set for Feb. 5. Team owners will draw All-Star players at a kick-off draw party. The first tournament begins Feb. 6 with the final Feb. 17.
All-Star players include Adolfo Cambiaso, Juan Martin Nero, Gonzalito Pieres, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, Pelon Stirling, Rodrigo Andrade, Nico Pieres and Nic Roldan.
Smicklas stressed during a kickoff gathering Friday night in front of a packed house at Valiente that "this is a league and not a competing association." Smicklas said his role as Commissioner is to ensure fair play, first and foremost; to maintain quality 26-goal polo and rich tradition; and to enforce 26-goal league policies, procedures and rules which are still being finalized.
Smicklas pointed out when he was an active player at Palm Beach Polo during the Bill Ylvisaker days there were ten tournaments played each season and only one was a USPA-sanctioned tournament, the Rolex Gold Cup. The league is working with multiple corporate sponsors and attracting new team owners.
"Twenty-six polo is here to stay," Smicklas said.
Ganzi and Jornayvaz also stressed the World Polo League is not competing with any other polo clubs or associations including International Polo Club Palm Beach and the USPA.
"As in previous years, South Florida will offer polo from the lowest level all the way to 26 goal for the teams who want it," said Marc Ganzi, who moved with his family to Wellington 17 years ago and was part of polo's glory days.
"We just want to offer access," Ganzi said. "We love the sport and we want to play 26 goal, but we want to give access to other teams to play it, too, if they so choose."
Added Jornayvaz, "Everyone is free to play here and anywhere else. We want to continue to preserve the great 26-goal that has existed for so many years. It's a type of polo that we all love and don't want to go away."
Cambiaso, the world's top player, is thrilled to be able to continue to play 26-goal polo in the U.S.
"I think it's fantastic for us because we like to play 26-goal polo," Cambiaso said. "It will be fun. After Argentina, the 26-goal in America is the highest level of polo in the world. The level shouldn't go down. Melissa, Marc and Bob think that's the way it should be. Next year we are definitely going to play 26-goal polo."
There is no lack of world-class polo fields for World Polo League play. Grand Champions features 10 well-manicured polo fields with more plans to build others in the future and Valiente Polo Farm has four quality fields.
Grand Champions Polo Club and Santa Rita Polo Farm is the largest and most unique private 100-acre polo facility in Wellington with 120 stalls in five self-contained barns, exercise track, five climate-controlled tack rooms, vet room, staff quarters, guest house and polo fields with state-of-the-art underground irrigation and stick-and-ball fields.
During fall, winter and spring seasons, Grand Champions Polo Club, the nation's largest club with 10 well-manicured fields, hosts polo tournaments ranging from six to 26-goal in addition to special events.
The club features monthly 6, 8 and 12-goal tournaments and women's weekly league play during the winter season in addition to two 16-20 tournaments, $50,000 National 12 Goal, $100,000 World Cup winner-take-all 0-40-goal tournament, WCT Tournament and USPA National President's Cup.
During the 2017 winter season Grand Champions attracted a record 72 teams and another 18 teams during the spring season.
Grand Champions 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 Club Hotline is 561-644-5050. It will be updated every day at 8 a.m. for both players and fans.