Polo is a quintessential Palm Beach experience complete with high-stepping fashion, celebrities, posh guests, magnificent athleticism, and clinking glasses. With all the pageantry front and center on the field and throughout the property, it takes a village to manage all the behind-the-scenes aspects of this equestrian undertaking. Let’s take a look at some of the key players on the International Polo Club’s management team.
As polo is the sport of kings, John Wash, President of Club Operations, is sultan of the Sunday scene. Heading up this sparkling equine adventure, Wash greets guests and members, and welcomes VIPs with a warm handshake and a familiar smile every Sunday of the polo season – making Sunday polo the “place to be” in South Florida.
Wash brings a wealth of experience to all aspects of golf, resort, and country club service. After graduation from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., he transitioned to being a general manager and successfully headed up some of America’s finest private country clubs. At IPC since 2007, Wash has seen growth and excitement not only for the club, but also for the sport of polo. Wash is first and foremost a ubiquitous master of ceremonies, opening up the competition with the coin toss, and happily mingling with guests on the field or in the club.
As Box Office Manager, Maria Feola wears many hats. Her work schedule of 60-plus hours a week during season has her at the office from 6 a.m.-10 p.m. every day. It’s almost ironic that Maria’s schedule parallels the protocol of a professional polo pony. A veteran of the club since its inception in 2003, Maria is a master juggler handling all logistics of box office ticketing (both public and private member transactions), group sales, valet, parking, police details and permitting, website instructions, and managing a staff of up to 100. On game day, Maria is in constant motion and she is a force to be reckoned with. Not only does she control the tickets for 8,000-10,000 guests and members each week, she and her team stand guard over the stadium, assuring that all guests are in their correct seats. Maria, a native of Venezuela, has been instrumental in making sure the Sunday polo matches run as smoothly as possible behind the scenes.
Julie Pickens is the consummate hostess. As Vice President of Club Hospitality and Membership for 12 seasons, she is the energizer bunny behind the Mallet Grill, 7th Chukker, stadium food and beverage operations, and member services. A seasoned veteran of the hospitality industry with tenure at many high-profile brands – Hyatt, Marriott, Morton’s, and The Breakers, Palm Beach – Julie is masterful in creating exceptional and memorable guest experiences. Her upbeat attitude, attention to detail, and astute ability to organize all aspects of a function has led to hundreds of successful happenings. Julie has been pivotal in creating a setting where members, polo guests, and equestrian enthusiasts can come together to enjoy all of the amenities and excitement of a world-class club, with a very inclusive atmosphere. On Sundays, everyone is welcome and the club takes on a neighborhood feel; during the other six days, Julie creates a private haven for members and their families and friends. Julie and her food and beverage team have worked together for over 10 years. They are gracious ambassadors of IPC and take pride in welcoming guests to a place “where everybody knows your name!”
“Food should be great company,” says Executive Chef William Sellner. For the past eight seasons, Chef Sellner has been cooking up something delicious for the club members and the 25,000 grandstand guests attending polo matches. From running all the restaurants and preparing sandwiches and snacks for the stadium spectators to masterminding the member Sunday brunches and dinners, and Friday night lobster buffets, Chef Sellner is a culinary tour de force. Despite his quiet and calm demeanor, his food speaks volumes to the discriminating members and guests. A native New Englander, Chef Sellner understands the substance and authenticity of “going home” and reconnecting with the sights, sounds, and tastes of familiar surroundings. Exceeding his passion for food, Chef Sellner embraces the simplicity of the ingredients – and the detail and beauty of the flavors – to evoke the best taste and memories for his guests. An expert on fine dining and discerning clientele, his career includes tenure at Yale University’s private club, Mory’s, a four-star bed and breakfast in Maine, and The Mar-a-Lago Club, Palm Beach. Chef Sellner considers himself a maestro, where he plays culinary conductor to people’s palates. The customers are the audience and the menu is a composition of taste, fragrance, and sight, with the crescendo being a sensuous and memorable dining experience. A plateful of Chef Sellner’s food is like having your most beloved, home-cooked meal. Bravo!
Farish Ensenat has served as the club’s Special Events Manager extraordinaire for the past nine years. After graduating Cornell University in 2001, Farish worked at the White House doing advance work and events, including campaign and inauguration details for First Lady Laura Bush. At IPC, Farish is the ubiquitous stage manager for Sunday Polo. She outlines Sunday match timelines, which include writing a script for the announcer that lists VIPs and special guests. She coordinates the on-site logistics for the singing of the National Anthem and pregame festivities, autograph sessions, teams’ tent setups, the parking of horse trailers, and the unloading of priceless ponies. Farish also makes sure that the tournament trophies are polished to perfection, displayed, and ready for the awards ceremony. She runs the operational aspects of match day like a finely tuned Piaget watch. Medical team in place? Check. Ice cream and champagne iced and ready for the divot stomp? Check. Kids’ Fun Zone? Check.
Special events hosted at IPC also fall under Farish’s purview, including the Gay Polo Tournament, equestrian shows, and national sporting events during the summer and fall months. “Putting the puzzle pieces together is what I do,” says Farish.
Aaron and Julie Menitoff are the “Veuve-tastic,” creative, culinary masterminds behind the epic Sunday Polo Brunch at The Pavilion, including the Veuve Clicquot Airstream Lounge, Beerstream, and upcoming double-decker bus of food, festivities, and fun! Catering to fashionistas, families, and equestrian enthusiasts looking ravishing and hungry for action (both on and off the field), Aaron and Julie’s passion about the art and science of the Sunday scene has no equal. The champagne brunch buffet features over 80 culinary creations for a sell-out crowd of over 700 guests. Ball in – they are ready for polo!
Enter, Matthew Tarantino. At the club since 2012, Tarantino manages the club’s community philanthropy and catering sales for all social events up to 250 guests. Tarantino’s gregarious demeanor makes him a natural when working with discerning clients. His savvy and altruistic guest service skills were developed from years of being a personal assistant, realtor, tour guide, and educator. Tarantino is a social butterfly working his magic within the community – cultivating events and good will for IPC. His domain for hosting weddings, dinners, and cocktail parties is the exclusive member side of the operation – Mallet Grille, 7th Chukker Lounge, Poolside Patio, Spa Terrace, and Sports House, where he curated a fanciful “Croquet and Krug” reception. Tarantino will choreograph a horizon of lush green fields with sublime sunsets as the perfect rsvp to any event. Cheers!
As Director of Polo Operations, Jimmy Newman is a 40-year veteran of the sport of polo. Having grown up in the sport, polo is steeped into his DNA. Since his first part-time job with the Royal Palm Polo Club, Jimmy has been around horses – from working as a groom and learning to ride and understand polo to owning horses and playing in tournaments. Jimmy has definitely been a regular on the polo circuit. The global scope of high-goal polo has provided Jimmy with a world of experiences and travel. He arrived at IPC in 2003 with an impressive history in polo administration. In addition to managing the polo at IPC during the winter months, he also directs the polo at other clubs across the country during the summer. Jimmy has seen the polo stars of today grow up and achieve success through the international ranks of polo.
Career highlights include managing five decades of U.S. Open Polo Championships and the legendary 1980 Cup of the Americas. Together, Jimmy, and Tony Coppola, the voice behind Sunday polo, deliver enthusiasm, spot-on, play-by-play commentary, and witty banter that is a spirited element of every polo match. Jimmy and Tony are as informative as they are entertaining. According to Jimmy, he has “heard and seen it all!”