Not for the Faint of Heart
The sport of polo has been a part of Tulsa’s history since the 1930s. When Southern Hills Country Club was built, it included a polo field for private matches. Known as the “Sport of Kings” the fast-paced game caught the attention of well-known Tulsa business man John T. Oxley. At the age of 46, Mr. Oxley took up the sport and increased its popularity in Tulsa.
Polo is a team sport, consisting of 4 players on horseback. Each player has a position with certain responsibilities to accomplish the objective of driving a small white plastic ball, through the opposing teams’ goal posts with a long handled mallet. Player No. 1 is an offense focused position. Player No. 2 is the key to both offensive and defensive plays. Player No. 3 is the tactical leader of the team, while No. 4 is primarily defensive.
The sport is not for the faint of heart. Equestrian helmets and riding boots are required for the players to protect themselves, and some wear knee pads and gloves. Polo saddles are English style, which are flat with no knee supports. The horses wear ankle wraps for protection.
The field is approximately the length of 9 football fields! The horses are called polo ponies despite the fact they are full-size horses. Polo ponies must have speed, stamina, agility and they must be easily maneuverable. Extensive training is required so the pony does not become spooked during the match. Each player has multiple ponies per match as the speed of the game requires extensive running each chukka, or 7 min play period. Matches can last from 4 to 8 chukkas.
In 1994, John T. Oxley was inducted into the Polo Hall of Fame as one of the best all-time polo players in the world. In 2003, he was inducted into the Tulsa Historical Society’s Hall of Fame. Mr. Oxley was the captain of the winning teams of both the 1961 and 1966 U.S. Open, and he won the International Gold Cup at 83. He opened his own farm near Owasso to raise polo ponies, quickly becoming one of the largest commercial producers of polo ponies in the country.
Polo’s popularity in Tulsa dwindled after Mr. Oxley’s retirement and passing in the 1990s. In other areas of the country, polo remains a popular sport, and it is common for teams to host charity benefit matches. This is what sparked the creation of The Center Polo Classic in Tulsa, an annual polo match benefiting The Center for Individuals with Physical Challenges. Initially the idea was pitched by local businessman Steve Cox, who has played and loved polo for many years. When The Center heard about the idea, they were quick to realize the great potential of a charity polo match and the event was created. The John T. Oxley polo field at Mohawk Park was the perfect location to host the first match in 2013 and has been the location ever since.
The Center honored Mr. Oxley’s contributions to the sport at the second annual Classic in 2014, by creating the Center Heritage Award, honoring legacy supporters of the organization and of polo in Tulsa. The Oxley family was the first to be awarded this honor.
Tulsa has had a few polo clubs over the years, most recently, Green Country Polo. Green Country Polo is always looking to introduce interested players to the sport. Several of their club members play in The Center Polo Classic which features all the glamour of the matches on the coasts: complimentary champagne, ladies in large hats and the traditional divot stomp at half-time. For information on the Center Polo Classic, see event information in the sidebar.