When most residents of the Gulf Coast hear the term “polo,” they most likely think about the event that takes place in Baldwin County each October. Polo at the Point is traditionally billed as the largest one-day fundraiser in Alabama.
While the celebrated gathering captures the headlines each year, it is only part of the story. Serving as the host for those 30 gatherings has been the Point Clear Polo Club (PCPC).
The annual fundraiser is not the club’s only undertaking. In the spring and fall each year, the PCPC has been sponsoring competitions since the early 1970s.
Polo is regarded as the oldest team sport in history, having been played 2,500 years ago in Persia. The history of the PCPC dates back to when Ed Bernard and Wilson Green brought the sport to the Eastern Shore. According to the PCPC website (pointclearpolo.com), Kenny McLean and George Radcliff were also key supporters of the growing club.
“Polo is just one of those things,” Hutch Radcliff, who is currently serving as president of the PCPC, told Lagniappe. “It catches on in some places and struggles at others, but it has never died here.”
Radcliff said there are a couple of key reasons why the PCPC has been able to last this long.
“It has worked so well here,” he said. “First, people are willing to put in the money to build fields and make polo a nice, high-quality sport. Second, there is the attractiveness of the area. People love coming here to play polo.”
Polo at the Point
At this year’s gathering, the Grand Oak Cup was an exhibition featuring riders from the various clubs. The weeklong U.S. Polo Association’s Southern-Intra Circuit Cup included four squads.
The winning team — Mercedes/Honahlee — had a local connection. On the four-person roster were Fairhope’s Cathy Alba and Herndon Radcliff, a Fairhope native and Hutch’s nephew who is a professional polo player that travels the world. Also on the team were Steve Tipler of Birmingham and Juan Valerdi of Lexington, Kentucky. They beat a squad from Memphis 13-12 for the title.
Coast to coast
Local residents are also having an impact on the national stage. Curtis Pilot of Point Clear helped get his team, Pilot, to the Gauntlet of Polo championship this year.
The inaugural Gauntlet of Polo was created to develop a high-stakes polo competition that included the C.V. Whitney Cup, USPA Gold Cup and the U.S. Open Polo Championship. For claiming all three legs, Team Pilot secured a $1 million purse ($125,000 for the first two tournaments, $250,000 for the U.S. Open and a $500,000 bonus for winning all three).
“It’s amazing to win,” Pilot, who started playing when he was 49 years old, told the media after clinching the trifecta. “It’s like a fairy tale for all of us; the whole team.”
The final match of the U.S. Open Polo Championship aired on CBS Sports back in April. More information on the achievement can be found at uspolo.org.
“Curtis Pilot’s team won the Gauntlet, which is the highest level in America,” Radcliff said. “There were three series in Palm Beach, Florida, with 14 teams. They went undefeated and never lost a game.
“What people don’t realize is we are one of the oldest clubs around. Curtis started with Point Clear Polo, and if [he hadn’t have] he would have never been exposed to the sport. The Gauntlet is a big deal.”
*Another major player on the national scene is Chip Campbell of Point Clear. He is the past president and the current chairman of the U.S. Polo Association.
“The USPA has about 5,000 members and 300 clubs,” Radcliff said. “To have people like Chip and Curtis from the same area competing at the highest levels of polo in the world is very unique. It is unheard of from a small area like Point Clear.”
Pilot is also the owner of Sonny Hill polo field in Fairhope. Campell, who plays locally as well as in Florida and Wyoming, owns the Clearwater polo field. The two fields have served as locations for Polo at the Point.
In addition to the annual fundraiser, the PCPC hosts several small tournaments throughout the year.
“We have a spring and fall season,” Radcliff said. “The spring season runs from April to mid-June, until it gets too hot. We start back in mid-September and go until mid-November.
“We play Wednesdays and Fridays at 4 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. We lease a field in Silverhill at the intersection of County Roads 48 and 9 for our games.”
Kasey Reeves is manager of the PCPC. Other members of the group include Lauren Barkin, Stuart Bridgeforth, Camp Campbell, Bonnie Corner, Bob Edmundson, Jim Horne, Bill Mackey, Juan Martinez-Baez, Mikhal Newberry, Elizabeth Radcliff, Gigi Radcliff, Katie Ricciardone, Gonzalo Teves and Bill Webb.
“We are always trying to get new people to play,” Radcliff said. “We tried a polo school to teach people to play in the past, and we would like to do so in the future. If someone is interested, we want them to come out to one of the practices. It helps if they have a riding background. If all goes well, the next step is to buy a horse.”
Radcliff said, as the head of the PCPC, he is also trying to share information about the group.
“I spoke to Rotary Club before Polo at the Point,” he said. “What I talked about was the history of the sport. It is the oldest team sport that still exists today, and here locally there a tremendous amount of history.”
The future also looks very bright for the PCPC, according to Radcliff.
“This was our 49th year, so we want to have a big blowout next year,” he said. “At Polo at the Point, we have people park on the side of the road and watch and not come in. We want people to come in and love the sport like we do. It is not as exclusive as people think. We are just a bunch of guys and girls who love riding.”
More information on the PCPC is available by calling 251-928-7656 or visiting facebook.com/pointclearpolo.
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