The Jackson Hole Polo Club officially registered with the USPA in 1966, by Paul Von Gontard, Skip Wright-Clark, and Warren Erbe on Paul"s Melody Ranch. The true beginnings, however, occurred much earlier.
In 1948, at the end of the war, polo was being revived in St. Louis. Paul Von Gontard was invited to play and it was love at first swing. The Von Gontard"s, like many families, chose Jackson Hole as their summer home. Paul brought his new found love of polo to Jackson with him. Fortunately Wyoming proved to be fertile ground for polo. There was already an abundance of horses and horsemen here, as well as some individuals with previous exposure to polo; such as; Skip Wright Clark who had played at Cornell, John Wort who had played in the 1930"s in Santa Barbara, and guests at some of the Guest Ranches. One of these Guest Ranches invited Paul to join in for some backyard polo in western saddles and it was here that he met some of these other polo enthusiasts.
So back at Melody Ranch, Paul and crew begin to play on newly cut hay fields with a rubber ball and brooms with the bristles cut off and taped for a better hitting surface. Eventually, rubber balls were replaced with leather ones. They soon discovered that western saddles were too dangerous and they rode bareback like wild Indians. This was a very rough game with no rules except every man for himself.
Polo at Melody Ranch continued in this manner until the early 1960"s when Tony Veen from California happened to stop by for a visit and offered to help gather some proper equipment and put on a polo clinic. So began a new era. Flat saddles, mallets and balls were found and borrowed. The field was moved to the dirt airfield which was widened enough to make it playable. Tony taught the rules of the game and the proper swing of a mallet; from a tailgate first and then from horseback at a walk. By the end there were about 12 members made up of local ranchers, businessmen, and visitors.
Soon thereafter, the Jackson Hole polo club was invited to go to Sheridan and play against the Big Horn polo club. The Big Horn is a well established club with a long polo history. All in all, There were some great games and wonderful parties, and Jackson Hole got a good schooling on the game of polo. The next summer, Big Horn reciprocated and came to Jackson to play. The Jackson club went to great measures to water down the dusty airfield in preparation for the match. Nonetheless, by the end of the day, it looked like Custer"s Last Stand in reverse with the Big Horn club once again triumphant. The lesson learned from these two exchanges was that the Jackson Hole polo club needed a commitment to develop proper fields, horses and equipment to be competitive in this sport.
And so in 1967, an indoor/outdoor grass field was built with plywood sides and an open-end. An arena ball was used. Next, an old log building was donated which was moved to field side and became the much used club house. It was at this point that we began to consider ourselves a real polo club and invited some players from California to come play in a tournament, which we actually won. The occasional win simply reinforced our motto; "we may not win every tournament, but we never lose a party"! It was as important to continue the fun off the field and we would entertain our members and guests with river floats, trail rides and cook outs. This tradition remains today.
Another person who must be honored for the significant impact he had on the growth of polo in Jackson is Dr. Billy Linfoot. As a vet visiting from California to demonstrate horse breaking for the regional veterinarians, Dr. Linfoot exhibited his great horsemanship and communication skills. He stayed on in Jackson long enough to give a clinic at the polo club and teach the value of team work; both on and off of the field. He taught that the true essence of a club is it"s community minded function and family involvement is key to building a strong club. This is another ideal we value highly at the Jackson Hole Polo Club.
No view of a club"s history is complete without memories of the great horses, and matches, and realizing the love and dedication of the members and their families for this sport. "There is a kinship passed amongst us. There is a longevity not measured in time. From these great people, there is a continuance when we turn back and see...and find great loving memories and vitality for the future."*