Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Ten Goals

On the first Monday in October, the United States Polo Association National Handicap meeting took place at the Willcox hotel. A lot of interesting things happened at this meeting, including the assignment of the first-ever intermediate “half goal” handicaps to players between -1 and 2 goals. (The Board of Governors voted to institute these handicaps on Saturday, October 1.) 

The other milestone was that Aiken’s own Tommy Biddle was raised to 10 goals in the arena. Tommy, who has been playing as a 9 in the arena and a 6 on the grass, is a skillful and imposing player – when he hits a ball, it may as well have been launched from a rocket. Polo spectators in Aiken witnessed his power this fall in the finals of the USPA National Copper Cup 12 goal, which he won with his team, Blanco Texas. A few years back, he also played (and won) the United States Arena Polo Championship at the Polo America arena in Aiken’s Steeplechase neighborhood. This spring, he captained America’s winning team in the USPA Townsend Cup, a 22-goal arena match-up against an English team, which took place at the Empire club in California. 

The 10-goal rating is the pinnacle of polo success, and you don’t get there unless you are, literally, the best. While it certainly isn’t easy to get to 10 goals on the grass, it is even harder in the arena – throughout its history, the USPA has been extraordinarily stingy in giving out 10-goal ratings to arena players. Since the association was formed in 1890, it has named 49 10-goal outdoor players, but only four 10-goal arena players. The first was Winston Guest in the 1920s. The second was Clarence Coombs (known as Buddy), who reached 10 goals in 1951. The third was Joe Henderson, who played in the arena at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center and attained his 10-goal rating in the early 1990s. And now, in 2012, Tommy Biddle is the fourth.

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