The Gold Cup or ‘British Open’ remains the pinnacle of the English high-goal polo season for both players and patrons, and is revered within polo circles.
Since its inception in 1956, the Gold Cup, which celebrates its 50th anniversary next year, has become the most important single, polo tournament played outside Argentina.
Its home is Cowdray Park Polo Club, where all the final rounds are played. Set within Viscount Cowdray’s 16,500 acre estate in Midhurst, West Sussex, Cowdray Park Polo Club, with its cricket square and castle ruins next to the polo grounds, mark it out as quintessentially English.
For many, it has become a permanent fixture in the summer social and sporting diary as part of the summer season, with thousands of spectators turning out on finals day for the showcase event.
Zacara always produce high-quality side in Gold Cups
Jaeger-LeCoultre, who take over from lengthy sponsors Veuve Clicquot, are the official timekeepers for the polo grounds, and major tournaments, while Cowdray Park is recognised worldwide as the home of British polo, with the game having been played there since 1910.
Its role in the re-establishment of polo in England following the war cannot be underestimated.
This revival was largely due to a legend within polo: John, 3rd Viscount of Cowdray, who passed away in 1995, was the founding father in giving Cowdray its global reputation, and its special atmosphere of warmth.
The Gold Cup itself started when an Argentine farmer called Antonio Heguy came over to England on holiday with three of his friends. Lord Cowdray had invited them to play in his new tournament.
They arrived with a boatload of home bred horses – so different to today’s multi-million pound high-goal team operations. Their team, Los Indios, beat the home side 9-4 to become the first winners of the Gold Cup.
The list of competitors who have taken part in the Gold Cup form a ‘Who’s Who’ from the worlds of business and aristocracy, as well as attracting some of the greatest polo playing dynasties from South America.
The Heguy family continues to be a formidable force on the polo field, along with the Novillo Astradas and the Pieres families to name but a few.
The current world number one, Argentine Adolfo Cambiaso, had his first taste of English polo as a teenager when he joined David Jamison and Antony Embiricos’s Tramontana team in the 1980s. Tramontana holds the record – with five titles.
English competitors have included the Vestey family, Lord Waterford’s family, including sons Charles and Patrick Beresford, and even Prince Philip and HRH, The Prince of Wales, who were regular Gold Cup competitors.
The business magnate, the late Kerry Packer, and subsequently his son Jamie Packer, raised the stakes with their Ellerston Team, setting the benchmark for professionalism within the sport, and the breeding of ponies, winning the title three times.
The Tomlinson family, owners of Beaufort Polo Club in Tetbury, Gloucestershire have always been represented at the Gold Cup. In the earlier years it was Simon and Claire Tomlinson who played in the team Los Locos.
Latterly, their children, Mark and Luke, Eton-educated, have become leading lights as British players in the game, and both are regular fixtures within the England Test quartet.
What it means to play the Gold Cup
“Playing at the British Open is always special, it’s the most important tournament in the UK, in fact, besides the Argentine Open its probably the most important tournament in the world. To take part in that means you are taking part in something big, increasing your determination to win.”
Mark Tomlinson, England polo player
For information on tickets, schedules and results, go to Cowdray Park website. The 2015 Championships starts on June 23. The finals will be played on July 19