Dec 04, 2020 6:43 PM
December is here and the countdown to the Florida winter season has begun! With many men's and women's tournaments on the schedule, this time of year is one of the most important on the American polo calendar. The GAUNTLET OF POLO® and the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship™ are just a few of the high-goal tournaments played throughout the winter season.
Just 40 miles away from Wellington, Florida, and next to the beautiful Lake Okeechobee you can find Port Mayaca Polo Club (PMPC), a club that keeps growing every year and hosts many tournaments at every level. USPA tournaments for 2021 include the 12- to 16-goal Heritage Cup™, the 18- to 22-goal Butler Handicap®, 4- to 8-goal Regional President’s Cup and the National Youth Tournament Series (NYTS) Championship®.
“We have done a lot to prepare for the season,” said Club President Stevie Orthwein. “The summer maintenance program did wonders for the fields and I expect them to be better than ever. We've also added to our pavilion to make it more hospitable and a nice place to spend time between games." PMPC is owned by the Orthwein family and Stevie is the son of Steve Orthwein, founder of Port Mayaca and former Secretary, President, and Chairman of the United States Polo Association. Stevie Orthwein, formerly a USPA Governor-at-Large, currently serves as the Florida Circuit Governor.
Many things can change in ten years, especially with a good long-term plan in place, and Port Mayaca is one of the best examples in American polo. From starting out as sugar cane fields in 2007 to having 135 acres of Celebration Bermuda grass spread over eight tournament fields and two stick-and-ball fields last season, new developments are made every year. CLICKPOLOUSA spoke to Stevie Orthwein about the developments which have taken place at Port Mayaca Polo Club throughout the year.
Do you have new clients such as Postage Stamp Farm?
"Yes, we are very excited about Postage Stamp Farm developing a property and making Port Mayaca their base of operations. This certainly fits into the goal of the club. I would say that Postage Stamp and others buying property around the club is indicative or a testament to our vision of building a members-focused club. In the end, the property owners around the club are the stakeholders and creating a great experience for them is our main goal."
Do you have any other additions, updates or changes in comparison to last year?
"We have sold a number of the surrounding lots and have some significant developments and construction projects underway. We have also added some additional staff housing and a meal provider to accommodate the growth in polo being played and players basing their operations at Port Mayaca for the winter. The club is really starting to take shape now and the landscape has changed a lot since last season. I think people who have not been to the club since last season will be surprised by how things look."
The area is greatly valued for its warm and rainy autumns. What can you tell us about the fields currently?
"Yes, the weather in Florida is ideal for growing polo fields. That being said, this fall was exceptionally wet which for those of us who were down here, caused a lot of frustration and stress. Thankfully the cooler early winter weather has arrived and things are drying out. I expect everyone's fields to benefit from the wet fall."
What are your goals for the 2021 season?
"Our primary goal is the same as it always has been, and that is to build a first-rate polo club for polo enthusiasts to share in the sport. I emphasize the term ‘polo club’ because that is what we truly aspire to be. Other venues in Florida tend to focus on being tournament centers or polo providers, or private facilities where you play at the pleasure of the owner. We look at ourselves more as a ‘members’ club where the club belongs to the members and our job is to create a harmonious space for all to enjoy. Beyond that, we try to take a laissez-faire attitude towards polo. Our business model doesn’t involve providing players or pros, selling horses, overtly cultivating sponsors, or trying to control the way polo is played, but rather a focus on great fields, top management with consistent scheduling and above all ensuring fair competition. I truly feel if we focus on those things, our members will have a great experience and the club will thrive."
What does it mean to you for Port Mayaca to host the preliminary games of the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship™?
"It’s a great honor for us to co-host this tournament with the International Polo Club Palm Beach (IPC) [in Wellington, Florida], the highest goal and most competitive women’s polo in the United States. It allows us to showcase our fields and community and falls very much in line with our founder’s vision of promoting the best polo. It’s also a great opportunity for us, and by us I mean the greater Wellington area, to show how collaboration between clubs can work. I think that is something that is very important for the future of polo in this area. For polo to be successful in Florida, there needs to be coordination among the clubs to ensure that Florida is a great winter destination for polo and that all clubs thrive."
Do you feel that with the amount of tournaments you are hosting this season Port Mayaca has established itself as a well-known destination for American polo?
"I think Port Mayaca has established itself as a club for the long term. The Lake Okeechobee area offers a lot of benefits towards growing polo in the greater Wellington area. What it loses in its somewhat remote location in terms of spectators, it more than makes up for in its ample space, relatively affordable land and development costs, and it’s great shared infrastructure. My view of polo is that at its core, polo is an agricultural sport. The large required space and cost of horse ownership make playing the sport in more urban areas cost prohibitive or at least difficult for a number of players. I think we are seeing that pressure in Wellington now.
If you think long term, you will see that Wellington itself was a product of polo moving to more rural areas. This is not to say that I am against Wellington and don't find value in having urban spectator-focused venues to showcase the sport of polo, just that it’s very hard to achieve sustainability, let alone growth when there are high-dollar real estate pressures as part of the overall polo economics. For these reasons I think Port Mayaca has found a space in the winter polo landscape and will ultimately help polo thrive in Florida, especially now that we have a strong group of vested individuals in our lot owners working to build a great community around a great polo club."
Effective Date: Saturday, May 16, 2020
The suspension of USPA Tournaments and Events will be lifted for USPA Member Clubs in locales where hosting polo matches and tournaments is permitted under applicable state and local laws, executive orders and similar decrees. The USPA Member Clubs in these locales are encouraged to follow all such requirements of their state and local authorities with respect to polo operations. In addition, we also encourage all USPA Member Clubs to take the precautions recommended by the CDC. We are preparing a detailed list of best practices for USPA Member Clubs as they return to hosting USPA Tournaments and Events and plan to circulate these guidelines within the next week. We will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation closely and will notify you if we determine a different course of action is necessary.Read More