Sunday, January 16, 2011

Spring Polo Plans

Schedules are out for the spring tournaments in the Aiken area, and everyone is gearing up for what they hope will be an active season. New Bridge Polo Club and 302 Polo Club have coordinated their schedules and will be offering 6, 8 and 12 goal polo, starting in late April and finishing up in June. This is quite a change for 302 Polo, which, in years past, has put on a series of 16-goal tournaments. There will also be the annual 30-goal Aiken Equine Charities Cup, which will be held at New Bridge in May.

Following on the success of their fall schedule of USPA tournaments, Aiken Polo Club will be holding three USPA 4 to 8 goal tournaments in the spring. Practices will begin April 1, and the first tournament, the 6-goal USPA Sportsmanship Cup, begins on April 20. In recent years, Aiken has held a number of four chukker tournaments, which are more economical and easier on some players than the usual six chukker affairs. Generally speaking, these tournaments have been held at the beginning and the end of the season, with the result that players who are not prepared to play in six chukker tournaments sit out much of the middle of the season. To remedy this situation, Craig Fraser, the club manager, has structured the tournament season with both a four and a six chukker arm. Play begins with a four chukker 6 goal in April, after which they may elect to participate in two May four chukker 4 goals, or step up to play in two May six chukker 8 goals.

The schedule also includes Aiken Polo Club's first modern-day women's tournament in June. This is not, of course the first women's polo tournament in the area. The Aiken Ladies Invitational, held under the auspices of the 302 Polo Club each fall, has been going strong for over a decade. The ALI, which is a qualifier for the Women's Championship Tournament in Florida, regularly attracts some of the best female polo talent in the world to play in its upper flights. The USPA Women's Challenge Cup, held June 8 through 12, will be a 2 goal tournament and is likely to include a number of more locally-based teams.

Finally, Kris Bowman, who is the director of club development for the United States Polo Association, says that she is planning to make sure that a number of up-and-coming young players will be on hand for the spring season. The USPA has been running a program called Team USPA (originally Team USA), which identifies young people who are serious about the sport and provides them with coaching, playing and training opportunities. Last year, several of these young people ended up in Aiken after the end of the winter season in Florida, where they worked for top professional players. Several were picked up to play in tournaments at all levels.

This year, Aiken may be an official destination. There are plans in the works to have some training sessions for Team USPA on Aiken's fields in the spring. This could be a good thing for players looking to fill out their teams with fresh young talent.

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