Although women were officially welcomed into the United States Polo Association (USPA) in 1972, with Sue Sally Hale becoming one of the first women to be a member, the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship® dates back to the 1930s. The inaugural tournament was presented by the United States Women’s Polo Association (U.S.W.P.A) in 1937, and played at the Golden Gate Field in San Francisco, California.
The U.S.W.P.A., the first and only women’s polo association in the history of American polo, created a women’s handicapping system mirroring men’s handicaps, with one 9-goal player and several 8-goal players. The U.S.W.P.A. organized eight to ten tournaments a year, totaling 300 members and 25 clubs in its ten-year tenure. At the onset of World War II however, women focused their attention towards the war.
The U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship did not resurface until the early 1990s. On the centennial anniversary of the USPA in 1990, it was officially sanctioned and held at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California. After a few years of competition, the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship once again lost momentum, this time only for a couple decades. It was officially recognized as a national tournament in 2011, and was hosted at the Houston Polo Club in Houston, Texas, until 2018.
G-String Polo Ponies’ Heather Souto reaches for the hook on BTA-The Villages’ Paige Boone. ©David Lominska
The most prestigious cup in women’s polo in the United States relocated to Florida in 2019, with its preliminary games played at Port Mayaca Polo Club (PMPC) in Okeechobee, Florida, and the heralded final at the International Polo Club Palm Beach (IPC) in Wellington, Florida.
The U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship began Monday, March 7, the day before International Women’s Day, established on Tuesday, March 8, back in 1911. “The mission is to recognize women’s achievements, support gender equality, and encourage a world where difference is valued and celebrated,” said Dawn Jones, member of the Federation of International Polo Women’s Polo Committee.
Dawn Jones is a member of the Federation of International Polo Women’s Committee overseeing the growth and development of the sport. ©Kaylee Wroe
“The United States Polo Association, along with many other global polo associations, clubs, corporate sponsors, and countless heroic individuals like the late Sunny Hale have contributed greatly to create opportunities for women’s polo to thrive,” Jones continued. “There are now a number of firmly established tournaments around the world, including an FIP Nations Cup, Women’s World Championship, and women-specific leagues that allow female athletes to challenge themselves and each other with plenty of room for growth as a new generation of players enter the game. Women’s polo has reached a new level of excellence with more sophisticated and exciting plays and team strategies that inspire beginners and spectators. Let’s all continue to make a difference to help forge positive change for women.”
Pamela Flanagan, USPA Governor-at-Large and member of the Hawaii Polo Life team, praised the work Jones has done for women’s polo. “The growth of women’s polo has been spectacular,” Flanagan shared. “There are three big things that elevated the sport: the first was bringing the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship from Texas to Wellington, Florida. This gave the tournament more prestige and it took a big effort, and Dawn was behind it. The second thing was the contract the USPA signed with IPC which ensures that the final will always take place on the U.S. Polo Assn. Field 1. The last piece is the $40,000 in prize money the tournament will have for the first time.”
USPA Governor-at-Large Pam Flanagan is a staple team member on Hawaii Polo Life. ©David Lominska
“I was approached by a sponsor who wanted to co-sponsor Hawaii Polo Life,” Flanagan continued. “When I told Chris Dawson they offered us $20,000 he told us to use that money to support women’s polo. I asked the sponsor if it was okay to use the money for prize money and they agreed. The USPA matched that so the winning team will take $30,000 and the runners-up will receive $10,000.”
“Women’s polo is growing so much every year!” Hope Arellano* exclaimed. “The level of play and horse power has progressively gotten better and better – it’s incredible!” Arellano, who played in the Argentine Women’s Open last year, is now playing for Dundas with Sarah Siegel-Magness, Nina Clarkin and Jewel Gregoncza.
Hope Arellano is competing in the 2022 U.S. Open Women’s Championship® semifinals for Dundas. ©David Lominska
10-goaler Hazel Jackson agrees with Arellano. “I see the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship growing every year, it is very competitive and the horse power is increasing as well,” Jackson said. “Many of the top players in the world such as Nina Clarkin, Lia Salvo, Mia Cambiaso and Izzy Parsons are here. There are also really great American players too. The standard is incredible and the fact that the final takes place on the U.S. Polo Assn. Field 1 is also very nice. The tournaments moved to five chukkers and the standard is brilliant. It is a tournament a lot of young girls can aspire to play and win too.”
With such high expectations, it is not a surprise that currently, almost half of the USPA’s membership is women, as Carlucho Arellano, USPA Executive Director of Services pointed out.
The U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship continues Wednesday, March 16, with the semifinal double-header. Two-time champion Hawaii Polo Life have qualified for the semifinals as the only undefeated team and will hope to move one step closer to their third title. The final will be livestreamed on Saturday, March 19 at 1:00pm ET exclusively on Global Polo TV.
*Hope Arellano is an Active Team USPA Member. Team USPA is a USPA program designed to enhance and grow the sport of polo in the United States by identifying young, talented American players and providing mentored training and playing opportunities leading to a pool of higher rated amateur and pro players and the resultant giveback to the sport of polo.