May 20, 2019 8:35 PM

MJ with microphone

Santa Barbara Polo Club’s first champion of the year has been crowned: Antelope Jr. However, the Pacific Coast club is preparing for a special season, with a lot of noteworthy details, as told by club manager, Melanja Jones.

“The club is looking forward to an amazing season. We struggled with fire and flood the last couple of winters, but we had a normal winter this year and so we were able to complete a major renovation of Field 1. That was good timing for us, as we are expecting an increased number of teams this season, and we want the fields to be in premium condition. We have six teams in the 12-goal that play now through the end of June, six teams confirmed in the July/August 16-goal, and two more 16-goal teams that are sorting out stabling logistics, as well as six teams in the Rincon League 8-goal in July and August.”

Jones has noticed the significant increase in traffic as the club continues to grow. “I have been managing this club for 10 years and have never experienced a year like this in regards to demand. It is fun to see all our hard work on promotions for the past few years paying off and our polo community growing! Our barns are completely reserved for the summer and we have a waiting list for stables. We are incredibly fortunate to have the support of local field owners at Cancha de Estrellas, Folded Hills, Villa Sevillano, and Bella Vista to complement the club fields.” It is clear it will be a very special year for Santa Barbara, and the expectations are high.

Claudia Uretz and MJ
Santa Barbara Polo Club announcer Claudia Uretz and polo manager Melanja Jones.

One of the biggest challenges for polo nowadays is to bring more people in, be it players, fans or sponsors. How does Santa Barbara try to attract more people? “Over the past five years we have really focused on developing local players and on programs to help them improve their level of polo,” Jones said. “That strategy has paid off for everyone. For example, in the 12-goal this year there are several new players who rose up through our development programs. Sarah Magness (Dundas Polo), Grant Palmer (Antelope Junior), and Luke Klentner (Klentner Ranch) all started in our Coaching League, then Pro Pool, Advanced Pro Pool, the Rincon League 8-goal and now 12-goal. Through the Rincon League 8-goal in the summer, we have also been able to attract other players who have started other places and are looking for a summer home or that next competitive level. Omar Mangalji, who is now playing on Farmers & Merchants Bank Too! team in the 12-goal, is just one example. Sarah Magness, Joe Henderson, and Santi Trotz convinced me to put the Rincon League together a couple years ago and it keeps growing and growing. We focus on quality polo, good fields, and fair umpiring. There are also a lot of barn barbecues!”

Jones' work during the off season in Santa Barbara is very interesting, as the club keeps contact throughout the year with several players. Although there is an off season, managing a polo club is a 12-month-a-year job. “In the off season, I go to the desert clubs and to Florida to talk to teams in other places, and that helps keep our name in front of players who do not live here,” Jones explained. “The club is also very fortunate that we have a loyal network of professional players who play here every year and are very active in helping to recruit players. I really have to thank all of the Santis (Trotz, von Wernich, and Wulff), Jesse Bray, the Obregons, Joe Henderson, the de Narvaez family, and many others who do a lot of work behind the scenes to help attract new players to the club and take care of them when they arrive. Everyone on our club’s Board of Directors makes an effort to invite people as well and to provide social events during the season. Our Polo Academy is also contributing new players and we run a great polo school where complete beginners can start on safe horses. We are active on many levels to bring in people and make them feel welcome when they are here.”

Aerial shot of Santa Barbara's polo fields.

Santa Barbara has an important relationship with the United States Polo Association. There will be important novelties this year when it comes to prizes. “This year, with the support of the USPA, we are taking part in the Tournament Prize Money Matching Program,” Jones revealed. “The Lucchese USPA Intra-Circuit 12-goal will offer a $50,000 prize to the teams in the final. You can also view video highlights from the 12-goal series on the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club Facebook page thanks to the support of Farmers & Merchants Bank."

Working closely with the Association, SBPRC is able to reap many of the benefits available for advertising and promotion of national tournaments. “The USPA is very supportive of the club on many levels. Each season we have a National or Circuit tournament and the Association enables us to livestream the Pacific Coast Open on, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. They also provide coverage of all of our tournaments through their social media platforms. We use USPA professional umpires at all of our tournaments. And since we receive high-rated umpires from the Association for the high-goal tournaments, those umpires are available to help with training of local umpires here and at other clubs. I think the administration of the rules is one of the most important functions of the USPA and for that reason we always see coordination of the umpires with the Association as a top priority. The club and the USPA coordinate some of the youth programs such as the National Youth Tournament Series and the intercollegiate tournaments. In past years we hosted both the NYTS Championship Final and the National Intercollegiate Championships. On top of all that, we are really pleased to test out the Tournament Prize Money Matching Program this year. The USPA recognized us as one of only two Tier 5 USPA clubs. The reason is that we have such a wide range of programs from youth on up to high-goal and so many members. We are very appreciative of the support of the Association.”