San Diego’s polo season ends on a high note


Spreckels Cup dates back a century

The polo season of the San Diego Polo Club ended on Oct. 4 with the annual Spreckels Cup, the most prestigious polo event in town with historic roots in San Diego.

“It’s the premier tournament in San Diego and Southern California,” said Ron Bonaguidi, a founding member of the club. “A lot of very good players are playing in this tournament, and we’re happy to be a part of it.”

The first game of the day was won by the Hanalei/Southwind team, and the feature match was won by Tri Tech. Between games, the audience was treated to a demonstration by an Olympic dressage medalist. The tournament includes both professionals and amateurs.

“It was a tough game,” said Chris Maloney, a player and president and founding member of winning club of the feature match. “It’s the best tournament of the year, and you’ve got to fight every minute to get there, and today was an example of that. We had it tied up at the end, just barely, we probably should have lost it in the last chukker (time period) but it was a great game.”

The Tri Tech team included Maloney, 16-year-old Jesse Bray, Matias Obregon and visiting Argentinean player Gaston VonWernich.

Hanalei/Southwind included father and son Chris and Christopher Collins, who are third and fourth generation polo players, along with Krista Bonaguidi and visiting Uruguay player Juan Curbelo.

Maloney said that despite the economy, attendance this season was strong and actually exceeded last year’s.

Despite the perception of polo as elitist, Bonaguidi said polo matches are social events and welcoming of newcomers.

“It’s a small community, and everyone is friendly,” he said. “It’s not a snooty, arrogant type of community at all. It’s perceived that way by some, but it isn’t.”

The San Diego Polo Club, the third largest polo club in the country and the second largest on the West Coast, was founded in 1985. The club’s season runs from May to early October, and attracts players from all over the U.S. and the world, mostly from Argentina, but also New Zealand, South Africa, Uruguay, Mexico, Canada, Australia and Chile.

The level of the matches increases as the season goes on, and the season includes other tournaments such as the Fernando Gutierrez Memorial Cup and the Rancho Valencia Cup. The club always welcomes new members and the first lesson is free.

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Spreckels Cup at a glance

The first Spreckels Cup tournament, organized by John D. Spreckels, was first played on the beach in Coronado in 1909. The tournament was halted during World War II, but was revived in the ‘80s by the San Diego Polo Club. Today, winners are presented with a trophy refurbished from the tournament’s original days.

“It’s a tournament that has been won by teams in the past that have gone on to win the United States Open National Championship, so it draws a lot of premier players and premier sponsors,” said Ron Bonaguidi, a previous cup winner.

Gina McGalliard is a San Diego-based freelance writer.