A club on the cusp of exploding back onto the scene, BG Vero Beach Polo Club has a long history in club and family polo. Founded by George and Sandy Kahle in the picturesque seaside community of Vero Beach, Florida, the original club provided the quintessential polo setting to support and encourage family involvement in all aspects of the sport. Established embracing the ideals of five close-knit polo families, the recent 2014 revival represents the epitome of the modern-day polo club. Building on the club’s strong values, a dedicated managing staff has diversified in order to make the most of their resources, take the club to the next level, and secure a stable future for polo in Vero Beach.
There is great history with polo in Vero Beach beginning with the Kent Family creating Windsor Polo Club on John’s Island where Carlos Gracida, Adam Snow, and other great players spent time playing high-goal polo. Later after golf and development took over the seaside polo fields, the Kahle Family searched and bought property for the now, Vero Beach Polo Club, conveniently located right off Interstate 95. “Five families really banded together and had a blast with polo in this town for about a 14-year run,” recounted BG Vero Beach Polo Club Equestrian Director Patta Conboy. “They did very well, their kids all played, it was a quiet club that was content with keeping it amongst friends, there was very little outreach, and not to say that is good or bad, but it worked for them.” A familiar narrative for a majority of polo clubs, reliance on a small pool of members proved unsustainable as players grew older and aged out and children moved away. The combination of these factors along with the economic climate in 2009 left a void as polo dissipated in the area.
A portion of the original property was purchased in August 2014, spearheaded by Conboy, alongside Canadian entrepreneur Bobby Genovese. Today, entering their second full 16-week polo season, Conboy, a former yacht industry marketing director and Vero Beach local has surrounded herself with a well-respected team of proven individuals. “It gives me great pride that Tiffany Busch, one of my former students is now a professional player managing the polo operations,” said Kris Bowman, former director at Vero Beach and current Executive Director of USPA Polo Development, LLC. “When the Kahles hired me in 2001 they wanted to create an atmosphere where families could enjoy horse sports together. That is why they added the clubhouse first, so that people could gather and enjoy camaraderie whether they were riders or not. Many people questioned the mix of dressage, hunter/jumper and polo but it was harmonious. Under the new ownership they are carrying on that tradition,” Bowman added.
Offering two world-class polo fields, the season begins November 1 through the end of April, with twice weekly practices, 4-6 goal tournament polo, and highly-attended Sunday match games. Not exclusively a polo facility, the club caters to all equine disciplines and boasts three barns, consisting of 48 stalls, 23 paddocks, three turnout pastures, one regulation-sized dressage arena, two jumping arenas as well as a three-acre bridle path. A full-service equine facility, they offer seasonal and annual board; a strategy many clubs are exercising to maintain their facilities year-round.
“We pitch the location as much as we pitch the friendliness of the club, the quality of the play and the level of the playing field,” Conboy explained. In fact, Busch asserts it is an hour and a half exactly with a truck and trailer from her barn to the International Polo Club Palm Beach, “and I drive like a granny,” she joked. The scenery is beautiful and with a small town feel in a desirable location with all the conveniences of big city culture—it is hard to resist. “I love how everything is so close together. The polo field is 10 minutes from the beach and the beach has some of the best restaurants in Florida, including the Ocean Grill, owned by Charlie Replogic who has played polo all his life and been a big supporter of the club. The beach side of Vero has a ‘Hampton-y’ feel with cute boutiques and wonderful beachside places to swing into.”
“I was born and raised in Vero, and for me, I just want to see this club succeed and become something more,” said Busch. Nostalgic like many a polo kid growing up around the sport, she strives to recreate an ambiance that was invaluable to her childhood. “For me, having my family out on the sidelines, showing up to practices, bringing back that family-style of polo—whether they play or not. Having my nieces out there on the field, running around at halftime while everyone is stomping divots, it brings such joy to my heart. This is why I do it, this is why I am here in Vero and not somewhere else. I want that, ‘how I grew up,’ watching my dad play 18-goal polo on the sidelines, going back to the trailer putting on his old stinky helmet, because I thought it was cool. Being brought up in that atmosphere is what I want to create here.” A successful polo player in her own right, with a medley of accomplishments both domestic and international, she recently traveled to Argentina to compete in the first annual Women’s Argentine Open, the highest level of women’s polo in the world. Alongside her is seasoned 3-goal professional Gaston Rodriguez and newest addition to the team, Belinda Brody. Both Busch and Rodriguez have ties to the area via family, while Brody brings with her proven knowledge building polo school programs.
With the talent and heart acquired, Busch describes Conboy as the “brains behind the operation.” The combination of Conboy’s extensive experience in marketing, familiarity with the area and resolve to transcend the original club structure is inspiring. “I was the sales and marketing director for a number of large yacht companies. I helped build them, so building companies is my forte,” Conboy said. Recognizing a need for multiple revenue sources to make it work, Conboy’s primary focus is to grow their fan base, which regularly hosts 1,000-1,200 Sunday spectators, and corporate sponsors in turn. Emulating successful clubs in other seaside communities, such as Newport Polo Club (Portsmouth, Rhode Island) and Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club (Carpinteria, California)—the vision and the precedent are set.
“We are never going to be a Wellington, we know that, and we don’t want to be,” said Conboy. “I love Wellington, I lived there in the late 80s early 90s—this is like Wellington 30 years ago; it’s casual, there are still dirt roads, the property prices are very reasonable, we are close to I-95, yet you jump on State Road 60 and in 10 or 15 minutes you are on the beach,” she added. While Vero may not be the high-goal mecca of Wellington, they offer a well-rounded alternative. “We find our niche is lower to mid-goal polo, it keeps the fields in perfect condition. That’s the number one thing I hear from outside players, ‘wow, the field plays so nice, it’s so smooth and fast and accurate when you hit the ball.’ That’s the one thing that stands out to them and we are very proud of that.” Players are guaranteed an opportunity to compete in front of a crowd, even more thrilling with a rapidly growing demographic of polo aficionados. What more, the featured match game is generally preceded by a lively youth game. “We cut the field in half and the whole crowd gets into it,” said Busch. “It gives the kids the opportunity to get out there and show off what they are doing and what they are learning,” Busch continued. Her nieces often grace the rosters, which brings the club’s regeneration full circle.
BG Vero Beach Polo Club’s resilience is praiseworthy in and of itself, the strength of their renaissance however, lies in maximizing their resources in a significantly changed polo landscape to their predecessors. Today’s current polo environment requires more than just polo from clubs and BG Vero Beach Polo Club is a budding example embracing that vision. A qualified management linked closely to the area, a polo school committed to growing new members, a diversity of activities that cater to all equine disciplines and a burgeoning spectator base—the only direction is up. “We are small club with a lot of heart,” proclaims Conboy. “We all have the same mindset, we want people to have fun, we want it to be fair and honest.” Only two weeks into a packed winter schedule keep BG Vero Beach Polo Club on your radar. For an up-to-date schedule of tournaments and public matches please visit their website at www.verobeachpolo.com. To learn more, follow them on Twitter (@VeroBeachPolo) and Instagram (@vbpolo) and “Like” them on Facebook (@vbpolo).