If Elizabeth Hedley had a theme song, it would almost certainly be “I’ve Been Everywhere.” The marketing expert has helped boost the fortunes of polo clubs across the United States, from Palm Beach, Fla., to Wyoming. Hedley has spent the past three summers at the Brandywine Polo Club, helping the organization solidify its status as a powerhouse member of the area’s equestrian community.
And she has plenty more to do. “I think this is going to take off like a rocket,” she says. “It has all the best bones of any club I’ve seen.”
That’s high praise coming from Hedley. There are 233 clubs in the nation, and she estimates she’s seen about a third of them. And it isn’t really about money. “We just want to break even,” she says.
It’s about creating a climate that combines the best of the sport on the field with a robust community of spectators and sponsors. It sounds somewhat daunting, but as Brandywine Polo Club celebrates its 70th year, it’s absolutely possible. “There is such great history in this polo club,” Hedley says. “People talk about the past constantly. They say, ‘My mother played here. My father played here. I got engaged here.’ And then they come back and tailgate and enjoy the sport.”
Brandywine boasts an impressive 122-acre footprint in Toughkenamon that includes four grass pitches, each of which can accommodate nine polo fields. An arena hosts matches involving higher-rated players. “We’re going to make it a stadium,” Hedley promises.
Members can house their horses in 105 stalls. “I don’t know of any club that has that many stalls,” says Hedley.
In addition to weekly competitions on Fridays and Sundays, this year’s program includes seven major events that will draw players from all over the world. The club’s sponsorship profile is growing, and the Brandywine polo school has taken a significant step forward, thanks to the arrival of Argentine pro and veteran instructor Martin Estrada. He centralized the operations under the M.E. Polo Academy umbrella, which had its start in Florida and now has a chapter here. Estrada brought a no-nonsense approach to teaching, and those who study under him develop quickly. “We are super lucky to have him,” Hedley says. “He’s come to the club and raised the bar. “People who come for lessons are there to learn, not hack around.”
Renowned equestrian Dixon Stroud has performed admirably in stewarding the Brandywine Polo Club, carrying on the lineage of founding fathers like James McHugh and George A. “Frolic” Weymouth. Despite the need for improvements and advancement, there’s still plenty of tradition at the club— and Stroud embodies it. “I’ve had some of the most fun in my life playing polo, and a lot of it was done at Brandywine,” Stroud says.
Stroud’s son-in-law, Michael Bucklin, is a board member and player. He understands the club’s rich history while also understanding the need for a forward-facing approach that helps Brandywine sustain its energy for another 70 years. “The focus is on building the sport for the players but also to expose it to people,” Bucklin says. “There’s a huge opportunity for people who don’t know a lot about polo to come out and experience it on Fridays and Sundays. Once they see it, the addiction begins.”
Brandywine wants that fervor to grow throughout the community and beyond. All involved understand that it begins with the actual play. Thanks to growing relationships with Tinicum Park Polo Club in Bucks County and the Maryland Polo Club, better players are participating. As the caliber of competition improves, it should attract more sponsors and spectators. “Everybody is pretty committed,” Stroud says. “There’s a pretty big equestrian community around here. The club is a place where you can go to watch equine sport right in front of you and also have a great day in the country while watching hockey on horseback.”