The Santa Barbara Polo Club, founded in 1911, is the third oldest United States Polo Association, (U.S.P.A.) Club still in existence in the United States.
An exhibition polo match was first played at the Santa Barbara Agricultural Park’s 1894 Flower Festival. This match encouraged sufficient local interest in the sport that by 1902, the fledgling Club boasted a 40-member roster. Polo flourished within the community as various fields “emerged”, thereby drawing players to the area.
The late ‘20’s and the mid ‘30’s saw the Santa Barbara Polo Club into its golden era. Teams, horses, and players would arrive by train, unload from the stock cars, and walk through downtown Santa Barbara all the way to the Club. Sundays at the Club became a great social event in this era. Spectators gathered to view the sport dressed in the finest and latest of fashions and picnicked at the fields with large blankets and staff to serve the noon day meal. The games were riveting, fast and furious. Players graced the fields while guests enjoyed the players’ skills, basked in the mountain views, and were lulled by the sounds of the nearby ocean.
In February of 1942, there was an unexpected suspension of polo. The first enemy bombardment on American soil since the War of 1812 occurred in nearby Goleta. Near Senator Tom Storkes’ ranch, a Japanese submarine attempted to knock out a large oil storage tank close to the beach. Twenty-five shells in all were fired, but none hit their target. The community, understandably, put all its energy into the war effort and, through 1946, the Club’s polo fields were used to station and train soldiers. During these four years, the soldiers trained so extensively that the fields became bare. The fields required much renovation before they could be used again for polo and the war had such lasting effects that only the staunchest supporters played.
The 1950’s brought renewed interest in the sport as several avid polo families moved to the area. Polo once again thrived at the Club. The success lead to the U.S. Open tournament being played here in 1963 and 1966. The owner at the time, Rudy Tongg, was able to secure participants by many impressive foreign teams.
The 1970’s saw the arrival of yet more polo families and in 1974 the Club was renovated to encourage a new renaissance in polo. This included 141 deluxe condominium units, 2 swimming pools, a Jacuzzi, eight tennis courts, a tennis clubhouse, an exercise track for the horses, an arena, stabling for 350 horses, and three turf fields. The original clubhouse was left intact. During the 1980’s, the Club developed multiple leagues of polo to attract new players at various skill levels. This has ensured continued polo enthusiasm to this day and continues to encourage future players through the promotion of intercollegiate polo, public polo lessons and creative marketing. On the social side, the Club is reputed for its parties, elegant events and fine dining during the polo season and year-round, the Club’s tennis, swim and fitness members enjoy a social scene too.