WCT Sunny Hale Legacy Finals Attracts Star-Studded Lineup Friday At Grand Champions Polo Club

The much-anticipated Women’s Championship Tournament (WCT) Sunny Hale Legacy Finals, highlighted by two 10-goalers, is Friday at Grand Champions Polo Club.

By Sharon Robb

Photos by Candace Ferreira

It is a day to remember Hall of Famer, polo pioneer and WCT founder Sunny Hale, a woman forever etched in the hearts and souls of the polo community. She will forever be remembered for the torch she lit that is now carried on by women around the world. Hale died on February 26, 2017 in Norman, Okla. at the age of 48 after a battle with breast cancer.

Photo by Alice Gibbs

Hale was a pioneer and advocate for players and horses. She created the WCT qualifying tournaments to give young players and women a chance to compete and improve while promoting the sport.

The women’s polo handicaps were created by Hale and implemented  by the U.S. Polo Association. In 2006, she started the American Polo Horse Association which recognizes polo ponies in America and encourage events that showcase them.

She won the first USPA Women’s Open Tournament in 1990 at Empire Polo Club in Indio, Calif. She also revived the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship in 2011. Hale was the first woman in U.S. history to win the U.S. Open in 2000 with Tim Gannon’s Outback team with teammates Phil Heatley, Lolo Castagnola and Adolfo Cambiaso. She was rated 5 goals in mixed polo and awarded 10-goal status posthumously.

Hale was always impressed by the caliber of play among women and juniors.

“Now people really see the vision and depth of the vision I had is becoming visible,” Hale once said.

Five teams will compete in two games held in her honor. The open division, featuring 10-goalers Hope Arellano and Hazel Jackson, is 4:45 p.m. on Field One. Grand Champions Polo (Becky Schmeits, Megan Manubay, Millie Hine and Jackson will play Orea Polo/Armstrong Farm (Petra Sobotova, Tiffany Armstrong, Kylie Sheehan, Hope Arellano).

The 8-goal division will follow at 6 p.m., also on Field One and will feature three teams in a round robin. The teams are Jupiter Polo (Meredith Lovegrove, Paige Coles, Alyson Poor, Jenna Davis); Santa Rita Polo (Ava Rose Hinkson, Malicia von Falkenhausen, Mary Wright, Megan Manubay); and Team Resolute/Armstrong Farm (Lauren Proctor Brown, Nicole Hai, Kylie Sheehan, Tiffany Armstrong).

Arellano, 21, much like Hale, has become an inspiration for other young women. The fourth generation player became only the second American woman to be rated at 10 goals and first American to achieve a 10-goal status since Polito Pieres in 2015.  She is the first American player to win the prestigious Women’s Argentine Open. She has also won the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship and was the first woman to compete for the U.S. in the FIP World Polo Championship.

Jackson, born and raised in the United Kingdom, is also ranked at 10 goals. She has  won the Argentine Open and U.S. Women’s Open. She is the captain of the English Ladies Polo team. She was Arellano’s teammate on the winning 2023 Women’s Argentine Open team. Recently, Arellano and Jackson were teammates in the U.S. Women’s Open with La Fe which finished runner-up.

The trophy presentation will be held after both games. Food and refreshments will be served in Grand Champions Stadium after the matches.

Hale said Grand Champions Polo Club and President and good friend Melissa Ganzi have always played an integral role in the WCT’s success. It was important to Hale to hold the WCT Finals during the U.S. Open.

“The fact the WCT Finals are in Wellington during the U.S. Open sets the whole stage,” Hale said. “Women are inspired to play here.

“Grand Champions does a fantastic job. What it does for the WCT is it brings legitimacy to the fact they put on a great show, they’ve got great fields and you are right in the center of everything. Grand Champions has taken it to that level and really gotten behind it.”

Women’s polo is the largest growing sector in polo, pioneered by Hale and WCT that was founded in 2005 to help consolidate women’s polo and promote high quality competition. Santa Rita Polo Farm-based Polo School Women’s Polo League, founded by Alina Carta and Ganzi, has carried on Hale’s vision, developing more woman players with its weekly league play.

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