Apr 04, 2017 7:11 PM

Dunbar Bostwick in the 1930 Junior Championship in Aiken. Photo credit: Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame
Dunbar Bostwick in the 1930 Junior Championship in Aiken. Photo credit: Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame.

The sport of polo in the United States has long-standing roots in the city of Aiken, South Carolina. The Aiken Polo Club, founded in 1882 and currently managed by Billy Raab is one of the oldest and most historic clubs in the United States. Magnificent live oak framed streets and horse-friendly orange clay roads provide a truly idyllic backdrop to their four polo fields, located in the heart of the city. The quintessential horseman's paradise, with miles of trails and multi-discipline competitions, Aiken is a sought out equestrian destination which draws top horsemen from all across the nation due to its temperate climate, excellent footing and affordable cost of living.

Polo in Aiken was established by the “winter colony,” a group of prominent and wealthy northeastern families who migrated south every year from November to April, in search of a warmer climate to pursue equestrian sports. The historic Whitney Field, one of the oldest fields in the country, boasts 134 years of consecutive play.

Aiken Polo Club action. Photo credit: Pam Gleason
Aiken Polo Club action. Photo credit: Pam Gleason.

Today, polo has become very popular in Aiken and many have capitalized on the equestrian area by forming new polo clubs. New Bridge Polo & Country Club, currently managed by Raza Kazmi along with Haley Bryan, was founded by amateur polo player Russ McCall in 2000 in partnership with Argentine professional Matias Magrini. The astounding 861-acre New Bridge development boasts five world-class polo fields in a private gated community in a natural wooded setting, framed by southern pines and surrounded by an effortless tranquility.

Wagener Polo Club established in 2010 and managed by Billy Raab is newest to the Aiken polo scene. With a focus on 4- to 6-goal tournament polo and a 10-month playing schedule, Wagener Polo Club is suited for all levels of polo players.

Aiken Polo Club Junior Polo Director Tiger Kneece. Photo Credit: Elizabeth Hedley
Aiken Polo Club Junior Polo Director Tiger Kneece. Photo credit: Elizabeth Hedley

With many polo clubs in such close proximity, it is easy to understand how a cycle where players are competed for and rivalries born would take shape. The Aiken area had progressively fallen victim to such a situation. Although South Carolina is fondly regarded for its rich history and vibrant polo scene, area club managers and instructors knew that it was not living up to its potential when clubs were standing alone.

At the end of the 2016 Fall Polo Season, Raab, Kazmi, instructors and players met to solve the problem. According to Tiger Kneece, U.S. Open Polo Championship® winner and Aiken Polo Club’s Junior Polo Director, “We all got together last fall and decided to coordinate our schedules so that we are not competing with each other. This spring will be the first season that we are not hosting simultaneous tournaments, rather, we are sharing players. I think it is going to work out great.”

New Bridge Polo & Country Club Clubhouse. Photo Credit: Schmidt Productions
New Bridge Polo & Country Club Clubhouse. Photo credit: Schmidt Productions

In an effort to enhance and improve polo in the area, Aiken Polo Club, New Bridge Polo & Country Club and Wagener Polo Club have formed a partnership to provide all area polo players a superior experience. This joint venture delivers a concept that could lengthen any polo players season regardless of their club affiliation. Beginning April 1, Aiken Polo Club will commence their renowned Whitney Field Sunday polo matches and host tournaments up to the 6-goal level. Tournament and practice games from 6- to 12-goal will be offered at the New Bridge Polo & Country Club starting April 28. Throughout the spring season, Wagener Polo Club will be hosting four chukker 6-goal tournaments on New Bridge fields

"This is the ultimate goal,” commented Kris Bowman USPA Polo Development Executive Director. "If more clubs would work together like Billy, Raza and Tiger, they would end up strengthening their entire polo community. Everyone wins, from the clubs, to the players, to the polo instructors,” Bowman concluded.

Polo club managers Billy Raab and Raza Kazmi. Photo credit: Elizabeth Hedley
Polo club managers Billy Raab and Raza Kazmi. Photo credit: Elizabeth Hedley

Both polo managers will be available to assist out of town players with housing, stabling and all other polo needs including, finding professionals or teams to play with, polo school and horse leasing. This approach to polo emphasizes bringing new players to the Aiken area and maximizing their strengths by working together. The three area clubs working together will provide out of town and local sponsors and players greater flexibility, offering different levels of polo while also avoiding scheduling conflicts and outdates.

According to Justin Powers, Director of Club Development for the USPA, “polo clubs working together is vital to the future of the sport. The strides taken in Aiken are similar to other successful regional cooperative efforts in Central Texas, Chicago, Arizona and Houston. A healthy polo eco-system benefits all clubs at all levels.”

Sunset at New Bridge Polo & Counrty Club. Photo credit: Schmidt Productions

Kneece echoed Power’s statement when asked about his thoughts on clubs partnering to foster growth, “It’s okay to have multiple clubs in one area, but you have to work together in order to grow. If one club has Wednesday, Friday and Sunday practices, the other should have Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday playing dates. Then there will be an all week playing schedule that everyone can really benefit from that will attract players.”

The success of this partnership is already evident when it comes to the youngest generation of polo players. According to Kneece, “Our youth program in Aiken is going great and we are getting ready to host a NYTS qualifier at the end of April with over a dozen kids signed up already.”

To learn more about each club and view their season schedules, please visit their websites:

Aiken Polo
New Bridge Polo & Country Club:
Wagener Polo Club: