New Aiken Polo Club manager emphasizing organization, cooperation among area polo clubs
In a story posted last December on its website, the Aiken Polo Club announced that Billy Raab had become its new manager.
Not long after, a letter from Raab appeared, and it stated that the Aiken Polo Club was working with the Wagener Polo Club and New Bridge Polo and Country Club to plan and coordinate tournaments and practices.
The goal, Raab wrote, was to create “a stronger community within the sport and still retain the heritage of each club.”
Earlier this week, Raab expressed optimism that the objective would be achieved.
“I think it’s going to be great,” he said. “Everybody is on board with this. Basically, what we’re trying to do is get the three clubs to stop competing against each other.”
The spring polo season in the Aiken area will begin Saturday with the Aiken Triple Crown’s third and final leg, Pacers & Polo, which will be held at the Powderhouse Polo Field.
Gates will open at 10:30 a.m., and the match will start at 1 p.m.
The Aiken Polo Club’s first tournament, the Dogwood Cup 2-Goal, is scheduled for April 12-23, and it will be followed by five other tournaments.
The first spring tournament for the Wagener Polo Club, which Raab owns and manages, is the Aiken Saddlery 4-Goal. It starts on April 27 at New Bridge.
New Bridge, whose polo manager is Haley Bryan, also will have its own slate of tournaments, the first of which is the Members Classic 8-Goal. It will be held April 28-May 14.
“Hopefully, players and spectators are going to notice that polo here is a lot more friendly and a lot more organized,” said Raab, who manages the Skaneateles Polo Club in New York during the summer.
A former professional polo player, who had a five-goal handicap at the height of his career, Raab moved to Aiken County 12 years ago. He and his wife, Michelle, own Broken Arrow Farm.
“When I first came here, there were 248 players and nine clubs,” Raab said. “Now there are only three clubs and about 147 players, and that hurts.”
Those declines created a situation locally that Raab described as a “nightmare” as the remaining clubs scrambled to host competitions during spring and fall seasons.
“It was a free-for-all,” Raab said. “Everybody had to work around whoever got their schedule up first, and they were trying to pull away players from other clubs. Sometimes there would be tournament finals that were less than an hour apart, and the players couldn’t be in them all.”
As a result, there were postponements and confusion.
But because of efforts by Barb Uskup and the United States Polo Association, there were meetings last year that fostered a more united approach to polo competition locally, Raab said.
One of the changes involves the Sunday games at the Aiken Polo Club’s Whitney Field, which have been moved from 3 p.m. to 1 p.m. for the spring. That will allow players in matches there to also participate in games at New Bridge at 4 p.m.
“We’ve worked out dates and tried to avoid conflicts,” Raab said. “We’re also trying to get more outside players, and we are going to try to have more parties for them to show them that they are welcome. The communication between the clubs is going to be a lot better.”
Raab is making both his phone number (561-719-3318) and email address (email@example.com) widely available.
“People can contact me anytime, and I will get back to them,” he said. “It might not be right that second, but I will get back to them. I don’t like it when someone has question and nobody answers or responds.”