In 1954 the U.S. Open Polo Championship changed venues from the Meadow Brook Club on Long Island, New York, to the Oak Brook Polo Club in Illinois. On the outskirts of Chicago, Oak Brook was an outstanding polo and golf complex built by Paul Butler. Housed on thousands of acres, in its heyday, Oak Brook boasted 13 polo fields and stabling for 400 horses. It was in this same year, 1954, that the Butler Handicap was established. Named in honor of Paul Butler, in his early 60s at the time, his litany of polo accomplishments, including 29 dedicated years on the USPA Board of Governors, warranted a commemorative tournament.
Centrality was the primary benefit of Oak Brook: situated in the middle of the country, shipping was less of a concern, and consequently more teams were drawn to Chicago for the U.S. Open. Paul Butler saw this as an opportunity to capitalize on both players and spectators traveling to the area.
Since teams traveled a big distance to play in the U.S. Open, he proposed another tournament, to run concurrently, for those teams knocked out of the prestigious tournament. In this way, the Butler Handicap maintained a competitive and high standard of play equal to the U.S. Open. As the tournament was Mr. Butler’s idea, it was aptly named in his honor. The Butler Handicap, therefore, traditionally served as a handicap tournament for teams entering the U.S. Open and became an important USPA event for over six decades, showcasing premier players, horses and polo club venues. During that time span, just about every notable player and who’s who of Hall of Famers competed for the prestigious title.
In its inaugural year, the Butler was won by the CCC-Meadow Brook team, comprised of players Don Beveridge, G.H. “Pete” Bostwick, Alan Corey Jr. and Harold Barry. This same team took the Monty Waterbury Trophy and the U.S. Open, rounding out an exciting triple crown.
The tournament was played every year until 1966, with a few exceptions, and after a brief hiatus was played uninterrupted from 1971-1990 almost exclusively at the Oak Brook Polo Club. Oak Brook remained the mecca of polo until 1978, when the U.S. Open found a new home at the Retama Polo Center in San Antonio, Texas.
In the late 90s and early 2000s the Butler was played only a handful of times: 1995, 2006 and 2007. In more recent times (2008-2014) the Butler served as a subsidiary to the USPA Gold Cup, one of two high-goal tournaments leading up to the U.S. Open Polo Championship in Wellington, Florida.
In 2014, due to the combined efforts of the Butler family and the USPA, the historic Butler Handicap was officially adopted as a national USPA event. In July 2016, the Greenwich Polo Club hosted the 20-goal tournament in Greenwich, Connecticut, in a concerted effort with the USPA to re-launch and better memorialize the national tournament. In 2020, the Butler Handicap moved to Port Mayaca Polo Club (PMPC) in Okeechobee, Florida, where it remains today and will be played at the 18-goal level.
In 2022, Old Hickory Bourbon (Harry Caldwell, Joaquin Panelo, Matias Magrini, Stevie Orthwein) met Beverly Polo (Bill Ballhaus, Lucas Diaz Alberdi, Jorge 'Tolito' Ocampo Jr., Hilario Figueras). Beverly Polo’s Ocampo Jr. lead his team with three unanswered goals in the final chukker of regulation to end the match 10-7 and inscribe Beverly Polo’s name onto the historic trophy. Read article here.
This year's edition will showcase four talented teams, including 2022 runner-up Old Hickory Bourbon. Recent Monty Waterbury champions Loudmouth will battle for their first Butler Handicap title with Hawaii Polo Life and SD Farms rounding out the competition.
Photo: 2022 Butler Handicap Champions: Beverly Polo - Bill Ballhaus, Lucas Diaz Alberdi, Jorge 'Tolito' Ocampo Jr., Hilario Figueras. ©David Lominska.