Jimmy Newman is a multi-faceted polo icon who has led American polo behind the scenes for 54 years. Starting from the humblest of polo positions, painting stable doors and picking up odd riding and grooming jobs, to managing an impressive 28 U.S. Open Polo Championships® in the role of Polo Manager at the International Polo Club Palm Beach (IPC) in Wellington, Florida, Newman has served the sport with heart and soul for most of his life. In his playing career he was a 3-goaler and highly respected for the horses he trained and sold, but it is his career as a Manager that has brought him to where he is today. Recognized as one of the most highly regarded cogs in the intricate mechanism of polo, Newman continues to keep U.S. polo running at a high and international level.
The Hall of Famer can be seen almost every day holding the reins of the busy and often unpredictable beast that is IPC, handling the staggering number of tournaments, players and polo fans that pass through its gates every year with dignity and calm. His contributions to polo as a sport are innumerable and resulted in his induction into the prestigious Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame in 2018. Furthermore, as a leader in the community he has woven himself into the fabric of the United States Polo Association, serving on numerous USPA committees and has held many offices such as Southwestern Circuit Governor and Governor-at-Large.
Newman has been a fixture as Polo Manager of IPC since the club’s inception in the early 2000s and has led the charge from newly opened club to one of the most important polo destinations in the world, featuring the prestigious GAUNTLET OF POLO™. Newman has dedicated his life to the sport that he loves and his passion for all that it encompasses; his commitment to IPC is a testament to the quality and level of consistent play gracing its fields.
How did you first come into the sport?
“I’m originally from Hamilton, Ohio. I came here [Florida] to start college at Florida Atlantic University and right at that time my mother’s sister married a polo player. He operated out of the Royal Palm Polo Club in Boca Raton and he sent me there to get a job. So, I went, and I started painting stall doors. A couple of days later someone said they were looking for a person to take care of two horses. I had ridden horses before, though I didn’t know anything about polo, and that was how I got my start. Through that connection I started working in polo and that’s all I’ve really done since, except for the two years I was in the Army.”
How did your polo journey bring you to IPC? What other clubs have you managed and how long have you worked for IPC?
“I started out grooming at the Royal Palm Polo Club and I was really fortunate that the next year I had the chance to play some horses for the guy I worked for. The following year I took a summer job with Bill Ylvisaker. I met him when he came to try horses at the club and he asked me to come work for him. Part of the deal was that he wanted someone to play his horses in practice games. Since I was a new player, rated 0 goals, he put me in some tournaments and got some horses for me and he’s the one who really got me playing.
I played and worked for different people over the years. I first became a club manager at Retama Polo Center in San Antonio [Texas] in 1977 and I was there for several years. I had been there the year before to sell some horses I had trained, and the manager was retiring so I asked if they would consider me. They had me for the first year on a trial basis and then at the end of that they hired me and I stayed there for 20 years. That was in 1977 and it was the first time I ever managed a polo club and of course it was the biggest in the United States at the time. By 1979 we were awarded the U.S. Open [Polo Championship®] and we had it for eight years, we also had the Cup of the Americas in 1980, the last time it was played. I just happened to have luck on my side.
I started at IPC in 2002 and that was a couple of years before they officially started. In the beginning, only two of the fields had been built so we played a lot on private fields and we moved around a lot. The club was finished and opened in 2004 so they say that’s when it started but it actually started in 2002.”
“I don’t think there is any polo manager school you can go to. You’ve just got to live it and experience it. My advice would be that the best thing you can do is be a good listener.”
What goes into being a polo club manager? What does a typical work day consist of?
“Well I have a great staff that works with me including Haley Bryan who has managed clubs in Colorado and South Carolina. As for day to day, you should have followed us around the last few months! I mean it’s hectic. With the rain we often have four matches per day and there has been a lot of rescheduling. We have to organize flaggers, announcers, and timers and get all that started and sorted, then sure enough I will be at one of the noon games and they say the scoreboard has died on the other one! We have a great crew who can fix everything, but you just never know what the day’s going to bring. At the end of the day we just have to make sure that the four o’clock game starts on time because we are running out of daylight. Once you get to that part of the day and the game starts you can finally take a breath and realize it’s worked! It’s rewarding and it’s exciting. It’s so much fun to see these 12 new teams who are playing in the U.S. Open [Polo Championship®] for the first time this season. It’s great to see all the new talent as well.”
What impact has the new GAUNTLET OF POLO™ had on the club?
“Last year we had four or six teams in the same tournaments and this year there are 16. It’s really good for the club and exciting for the sport. The prize money is great, but I think the main thing is that the handicap was dropped to 22-goals and I believe that has definitely contributed to the increase in the number of teams. Some teams that hadn’t played in years have returned. There are 16 team owners and only four of them have played in the Open before. A lot of the 20-goal teams from last year have joined the 22-goal tournaments which is a natural progression. I think it’s great to have so many new faces. We just finished the C.V. Whitney Cup the first of the GAUNTLET tournaments. The polo so far this season is the most competitive I’ve seen in my 54 years in the sport—both fast and open. To play this polo you need a Thoroughbred horse.”
With the addition of the polo school and establishment of Gladiator Polo™ how do you see these two specifically impacting the growth and interest in polo from the surrounding community?
“They both bring more people into the sport, which is great. Gladiator Polo is very easy to watch. You bring someone to a Sunday game and it’s a big field and a small ball, but with Gladiator Polo it’s a smaller field and you’re on top of the action—it’s like watching a wrestling match. I think it’s a great eye opener for new spectators and it’s beneficial in growing the sport.”
Do you still actively ride and play polo?
“The last time I played in a tournament game was at Tim Gannon’s Outback Polo Club [Wellington, Florida]. A couple of guys asked me to play in January 2005, and I shipped my horses up from South Carolina. After that I just thought, ‘I’ve been doing this 40 years and things don’t work the way they used to in my body.’ I had a good time, but I sold the horses.When people ask me if I miss playing polo I say, ‘yes,’ but I don’t miss getting up crazy early and cleaning corrals and riding the horses. Back when I played, I got up every morning and rode my horses before I went to work. I did that because I needed to. I would just have people help me at the game. All the horses I had were ones I was training to sell so I had to be the one riding them. When I stopped playing I was 60 years old, and I said to myself, ‘if I play anymore, someone else is going to get the horses ready for me’—that’s only happened once.”
What have you learned in all your experience about managing a successful club?
“I was very fortunate when I started in polo that I was surrounded by some great people and I learned a lot from them. I remember when I got the job at the Retama Polo Center in San Antonio, Texas, I’d been in polo for 11 years and I was so excited. I thought, ‘well I’m a polo player and now I’ve got this job running this club,’ and I thought I was pretty smart. One time these two guys stopped in the polo office and asked which field the game was on. I was in a hurry and a little sharp with them and I just said, ‘drive up the hill and you’ll see the field,’ and they said ‘okay’ and off they went. One of them said, ‘thank you, sir,’ and that guy was Cecil Smith who was the greatest polo player of all time. I stopped and thought about that, ‘you know what, if that guy, being the greatest polo player of all time, can be polite and say “thank you, sir” to some 3-goaler in a hurry I better wake up,’ and I never forgot it.
“One of them said, ‘thank you, sir,’ and that guy was Cecil Smith who was the greatest polo player of all time. I stopped and thought about that, ‘you know what, if that guy, being the greatest polo player of all time, can be polite and say “thank you, sir” to some 3-goaler in a hurry I better wake up.”
I was fortunate at that time that there were so many great people around like Cecil Smith and John Armstrong. John Armstrong, who has just been inducted into the Hall of Fame, is one of my all-time heroes. He lived in San Antonio part of the time, but he really came from 200 miles south. I would trade horses with him and it would always put a smile on my face, the deals and exchanges we would make. I respect that guy so much. He helped mold my character. He has always been a gentleman. I saw him in matches where he would be beaten by 10 goals and he would never get upset and always shake everyone’s hand and he was always a great guy. People like that lined me out.”
Do you have any advice to give polo managers around the world, current and aspiring?
“I don’t think there is any polo manager school you can go to. You’ve just got to live it and experience it. My advice would be that the best thing you can do is be a good listener. If someone’s got a problem you have to hear them out and at this point I’ve heard it all. You never know what’s coming next.”