California Players Enjoying Opportunities At Grand Champions Polo Club; Crowder, Sheldon Compete Wednesday In USPA National 20-Goal Final
Jason Crowder, Jerod Sheldon and Jesse Bray made the move from California to Wellington to play polo at Grand Champions Polo Club this fall and are loving every minute.
The trio grew up playing together in California but agree the better players, fields, money and opportunity are at Grand Champions.
Crowder and Sheldon compete Wednesday for Flexjet in the final of the USPA National 20-Goal Tournament at 1 p.m. The pair, coming off last week’s USPA North American Cup victory for Flexjet, will join teammates Melissa Ganzi and Nic Roldan, America’s top-rated 8-goaler.
Grand Champions Polo Club is the only USPA club that offers 20-goal polo in the fall. The club also hosted eight successful medium goal fall tournaments.
Most of the players get the opportunity to compete on top-caliber polo ponies from Santa Rita Polo Farm.
“You always want to play with the best and right now this is where polo is at for the United States,” said Sheldon, rated at four goals. “In order to go up, you come out here and compete with the best and get the best out of yourself that you can, that’s the only way. Four or five goals, that’s not the end game.”
Sheldon is competing for the first full season at Grand Champions. Two years ago as a member of Team USPA he trained with the FIP team during its training camp at Grand Champions.
Bray, a 5-goal rated player, is attracted to the opportunities and competition.
“The best jobs are here in Florida, that’s where everybody wants to play,” Bray said. “I think it’s going to stay that way. El Dorado is a lot of fun to play at in the winter but doesn’t have the high quality of polo. They have 12-goal and that’s it, where here you have 26, 20, 18, 16, 14, 12, 10, 8 and 6. You have every level, you have everything.”
Bray is making his second full-time winter appearance at Grand Champions.
“The job opportunities are so much higher here because there is so much more polo,” Bray said.
“There’s a lot more professionals because there’s more polo and that’s more competition, but you can’t be afraid of competition.”
At 6 goals, Crowder is the highest rated among the trio. He has played at Grand Champions for four years. He first competed in Florida in 2002.
“I love it here,” Crowder said. “This is where you have to be to play against the best players. There’s no other place in the country where you can play against this kind of competition.
“I grew up in California and absolutely love it there but this is where polo is,” Crowder said. “You always want to be playing against the best players so you can improve.”
Crowder is amazed at the progress Grand Champions has made since 2008.
“When I first got here, this didn’t even exist,” Crowder said. “It’s really nice to see this evolve and fill a huge gap in polo. This is a great place for people to get started on their way to playing good polo.
I’ll come back every year if they’ll have me.”
Despite a few years difference in age, the trio are close knit friends. Crowder used to babysit Bray. Crowder and Sheldon groomed for Crowder’s father. Bray would sleep on Sheldon’s couch during California winters.
Sheldon said there is competitive polo in California with a few major sponsors, but “the money is here, that’s the biggest thing,” he said. “You don’t have the same amount of people and same amount of money and everything going into it.
“I will put 12-goal teams there up against 12-goal teams here, but the problem is you’re not going to be able to make 20- or 26-goal teams there because there’s not enough for the sponsors to pay for. If you want to play the high goal you play here. Both California and Florida are great but here it’s more prestigious.”
The polo community is already buzzing about Grand Champions and its eleven well-manicured polo fields hosting the April 1-15 $100,000 World Cup (0-26 goals), Feb. 22-March 11 Sterling Cup (20 goals) and March 15-April 1 National 20-Goal during the 2017 season.
“It’s amazing what Grand Champions is doing here,” Sheldon said. “It’s good for polo and good for players and sponsors.”
In last year’s USPA National 20-Goal final, Audi (Marc Ganzi, Jeff Blake, MVP Sugar Erskine and Carlucho Arellano) won with an 11-8 win over Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, Jason Crowder, Nic Roldan, Juan Bollini).
Wednesday’s regular season fall finale kicks off the biggest week of fall polo at Grand Champions.
The holiday weekend tradition marking the end of the fall season is Saturday’s doubleheader, one of the biggest social events of the fall in Wellington. The Carlos Gracida Legends of Polo game at 1 p.m. will honor the legacy of Gracida, who died tragically in February, 2014 at age 53.
In the second game at 3 p.m., the fifth annual International Cup will pit Team USA against Uruguay. Team USA is undefeated in International Cup play with wins over England, Chile, Mexico and South Africa.