WELLINGTON, Fl., February 27, 2020—On a perfect day for polo, Masai Palm Beach won the fourth annual Sunny Hale Memorial Tournament Wednesday at windswept Santa Rita Polo Farm.

The monthly women’s league final for February featured Avalon Farm, Masai Palm Beach and San Saba in a six-chukker round robin.

Masai Palm Beach (Courtney Flynn 1, Alina Carta 4, Hope Arellano 7, Pamela Flanagan 4) defeated San Saba (Dawn Jones 6, Kendall Plank 4, Taylor Scilufo 0, Clarissa Echezarreta 6), 3-0, and Avalon Farm (Margaux Buchanan 2, Kylie Sheehan 5, Cecelia Cochran 5, Alyson Poor 4), 4-1, to win the tournament. In the other match, Avalon Farm and San Saba tied, 1-1.

Seven-goaler and U.S. Polo Assn. Brand Ambassador Hope Arellano, 16, was named The Tackeria Most Valuable Player. 

“I’m so excited, I had a really fun game,” Arellano said. “I got to play with Pamela, Alina and Courtney. We’re all great friends so it was a lot of fun.”

Twelve-year-old Manucho, owned and played by Kylie Sheehan, was The Tackeria Best Playing Pony.

Carta, co-founder of the women’s weekly league, was thrilled with her team and the league’s success.

“It’s great, it was fun to win,” Carta said. “Hope is fun to play with. We played as a team and opened it up. It was great team work and a good feeling. 

“The teams were even,” Carta said. “We raised the level from the first two years to now. We are going at a different speed. It’s great we are having so much fun. This is the way to play polo.

“To be able to play here on these fields with a great umpire and all the facilities, it’s really wonderful. I thank Grand Champions to allow us to play this kind of polo here.” 

Scilufo, based in California, made her debut in the league for San Saba.

“Dawn Jones told me about this league and put me in,” said Scilufo, who has been riding less than two years and started playing polo in the fall. “My first time it was overwhelming but the best experience I could have had. The people here made me feel so welcomed. Even when you’re nervous or just starting they make you feel like you belong here.”

Jones, one of the sport’s driving forces in promoting women’s polo, is pleased with its progress.

Women’s polo remains the largest growing sector in the sport and is nearing the 50 percent member mark in the USPA. According to the U.S. Polo Association, there are now more women collegiate registered members than male collegiate registered members. 

“We always want to give Sunny Hale credit for establishing the foundation to build off of,” Jones said. “She established ways and places for young players to play and elevate the level of polo.” 

The February tournament honors Hale, the all-time greatest women’s polo player. The part-time Wellington resident died February 26, 2017 in Norman, Okla. due to complications from cancer. She was 48.

Twelve players competed in honor of one of the sport’s pioneers and first woman in polo history to win the 26-goal U.S. Open in an era when the sport was male-dominated.

Many of the players have competed in qualifiers for the Women’s Championship Tournament (WCT), the largest women’s league in the world which Hale founded to help open the door and break down barriers for girls and women. The WCT final will be held at Grand Champions Polo Club in April and U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championships are in March at Port Mayaca Polo Club and final on March 21 at International Polo Club Palm Beach.

The only full-time weekly women’s polo league in the world was created by Carta, a polo pioneer and one of the highest ranked women in the U.S. in the 1980s, and Melissa Ganzi, Grand Champions Polo Club President and World Polo League co-founder. 

Held every Wednesday during the winter polo season, the Women’s Weekly League is held under The Polo School’s umbrella. On the last Wednesday of each month a tournament is held with MVP and BPP honors awarded and gifts exchanged among players.

Team entry fees benefit The Polo School, a stand-alone USPA-sanctioned club. The Polo School offers lessons to men, women and children of all ages and ability levels and offers scholarships.

During the winter season in Wellington, Grand Champions is hosting 19 tournaments, the most of any club in the U.S. The highlight of the schedule is the second season of the 26-goal World Polo League, featuring 10 teams and most of the best players in the sport.

With 18 safe and well-manicured fields, including 11-tournament grade, the club will host every level of polo for men, women and children including the WPL, the only 26-goal polo held outside of Argentina. 

The club attracts a large international field of players from all corners of the world including Australia, Chile, India, Mexico, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Argentina, Canada, Ecuador, Brazil, Switzerland, France, Germany, Uruguay, Venezuela, Azerbaijan, South Africa, Nigeria and England.

Grand Champions is coming off its finest fall season in the club’s 13-year history. It was the only club in the nation to stage two 20-goal fall tournaments in addition to the International Cup and Legends of Polo Carlos Gracida Memorial. The club also hosted a full schedule of successful and highly-competitive medium goal tournaments.

Grand Champions and Santa Rita Polo Farm is the largest and most unique polo facility, nestled in the heart of the world’s winter equestrian capital Wellington. It features 120 stalls in five self-contained barns, exercise track, five climate-controlled tack rooms, vet room, staff quarters, guest house and four polo fields with state-of-the-art underground irrigation including one field for stick-and-ball and new parking lot.

Grand Champions Polo Club and Santa Rita Polo Farm’s expert staff can customize a complete playing experience including horses, pros and certified umpires in addition to lessons and practice sessions as part of its’ Polo On Demand program, created by Melissa Ganzi when the club first opened.

The Polo School, a stand-alone USPA-sanctioned polo club, is thriving at Grand Champions and Santa Rita Polo Farm. It is dedicated to teaching polo to all ages, particularly grass roots youth. Its’ mission is to provide individuals opportunities in polo at every economic and ability level. Scholarships are available. The Polo School operates in Wellington January through May and September through November. Headed by Director of Operations Juan Bollini, The Polo School has nurtured several men and women polo players now playing in the pro and amateur ranks since its inception.

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Sharon Robb

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