By Christine Vermes
Member, Menlo Polo Club
It may be the best-kept secret in Silicon Valley. Polo is being played right here in our own backyard — and it has been since 1923.
Over Memorial Day weekend, the Menlo Polo Club, one of the oldest polo clubs in California, hosted its first U.S. Polo Association-sanctioned women's tournament at the Menlo Circus Club in Atherton with all the fanfare and pageantry you'd expect from the so-called "sport of kings."
Eight teams, with a total of 32 women, competed in four matches for prizes. Amateur competitors hailed from Menlo Park, Woodside, Portola Valley and other local Silicon Valley towns. Completing the teams were top professional women players from Southern California, collegiate players from Cal Poly, and guests from Los Angeles, Santa Rosa, and Santa Barbara.
While the Menlo Polo Club has been in existence for nearly 90 years and had some serious national recognition in the late 1950s and early 1960s, it has been relatively quiet until recently.
"Back in the day, polo was a large part of the social scene on the Peninsula," says Lyn Jason Cobb, president of the Menlo Polo Club. Her grandfather started the club, and her father, Mack Jason, was club president for 46 years. "The sidelines were always packed with tailgaters."
She'd like to see a return to that kind of local enthusiasm for the sport.
The May 29 event was the largest tournament the club has seen in many years and the sponsorship was unprecedented. The title sponsor was ExpertQuote, a benefits management company. Team and Gold sponsors were Airship Ventures, Bombardier, Cheval Polo, Coldwell Banker, Ferrari Silicon Valley, Four Seasons Silicon Valley, Land Rover, Surpass, Tesla Motors, the Wall Street Journal and Zouves Fertility Center.
"The enthusiasm and momentum for the tournament was outstanding especially coming off a very difficult economy last year," Cobb notes.
The event was deemed to be a qualifier tournament for the Women's Challenge Tournament (WCT), the "Super Bowl" of women's tournaments. The WCT is the most prestigious tournament title in women's polo today as well as the largest women's tournament series in the world.
Team winners from the Menlo Polo Club's women's tournament qualify for playoffs at the WCT finals in Florida at the International Polo Club in April 2011.
The first match in the Atherton tournament pitted the Four Seasons Silicon Valley team against the team sponsored by Zouves Fertility Center. The match was tied 2-0 in the third chukker (or period). Zouves Fertility Center triumphed in the fourth chukker by scoring two goals to end the match, 4-3.
The second match was played by the Land Rover Surpass team against the Tesla Motors CB polo team. Tesla Motors scored the majority of points in the first and third chukkers, winning the game 7-3.
The fastest match of the day was appropriately played by the Ferrari of Silicon Valley team against Coldwell Banker. While Ferrari showed a solid performance, Coldwell Banker's third chukker was the strongest. scoring 4 points alone that period and ending the match 8-5 in Coldwell's favor.
The last match of the day was the Cheval Polo team against a Menlo Polo Club-assembled team with two collegiate players from Cal Poly. Menlo Polo Club took a home "court" advantage, winning that game 10-2.
• Polo in Silicon Valley is played at the Menlo Circus Club in Atherton from May through the middle of October. Players take August off to support the Menlo Charity Horse Show.
• Go to menlopoloclub.com for information on the Menlo Polo Club and the schedule of tournaments. Sunday play and Friday afternoon practices are open to the public and admission is free. Picnics and tailgating are welcome on the west side of the field.
About the author: Christine Vermes is an amateur polo player and member of both the Menlo Polo Club and the Horse Park Polo Club of Woodside. She was co-chair of the recent ExpertQuote Ladies' Cup Tournament, held in Atherton.