It’s known as one of the most elite parties in the world—a “party” that West Suburban polo fans have been enjoying at Oak Book Polo Club since 1922.
There are delightful hats. There are dapper accessories. And always, always, there is champagne flowing as glasses are raised by spectators to cheer on their club in an ancient game known as the “sport of kings.”
That champagne might taste a bit sweeter this year as Oak Brook Polo Club returns with an abbreviated season and special protocol in place to keep spectators safe as they enjoy what has been a beloved summer tradition for nearly a century.
“Polo is a great group activity with family and friends that want to get out of the house, share a few drinks and laughs, and enjoy an afternoon watching the world’s most beautiful and adrenaline-fueled game,” says Oak Brook Polo Club Managing Director Danny O’Leary. “Maybe put those sweatpants and t-shirts away from staying cooped up at home and get dressed up finally for once. I can imagine a lot of people want dust off those suits, sun dresses, and fancy hats and get out.”
The recent pandemic and statewide “shelter in place” order put plans for the 2020 season on pause, leaving O’Leary and his colleagues to come up with an abbreviated schedule that, while different, could keep the sport going and give fans a chance to participate with limited capacity, socially distanced, “tailgate only” viewing.
“Our traditional venue layout with the Saddle Club, Grandstands, Field Side Tents, Reserved Tables, and Lounges do not comply with many of the state’s industry guidelines for health of social distancing. As a result, and to better control our spectators’ behavior and whereabouts, we applied an ‘all-tailgate’ environment where parking spots along the field are spectator-assigned seats with buffer zones between each spot, so groups are socially distant,” explains O’Leary, adding that part of the reason the season was delayed was also to let the polo field “heal” after May floods left standing water.
The fields came alive again in July with the Butler Challenge Cup and the Oak Brook Polo Open and will continue with matches this month and through September 27—culminating with the coveted USPA Butler International Cup.
Guests will be prohibited from leaving their assigned tailgate (unless they need to use the restroom or handwashing/hand sanitizing station) and will be required to wear a mask (PPE) when outside their individual groups. There will be no concessions, bars, merchandise, or sponsor display areas. General parking will not be permitted onsite, nor will shuttle services be offered. Even the legendary pivot stomp is cancelled this year, due to safety concerns and need to adhere to state guidelines.
However, what won’t be “cancelled” is the fun of the party that is polo.
“Depending the on type of tailgate, spots are 12 to 15 feet in length and 20-feet deep. So, guests can bring their own table, chairs, tent, and umbrellas to make themselves comfortable … basically bring their backyard to polo!” says O’Leary. “They may bring their own food and drink as well.”
Founded by local businessman Paul Butler, Oak Brook Polo Club is regarded as one of the oldest polo clubs in the United States. An American Polo treasure, it has served as home to the U.S. Open Polo Championship for 25 straight seasons and other prestigious international and national polo tournaments. For generations, it’s been a popular Sunday tradition and social scene known for entertaining Hollywood celebrities, dignitaries, royalty, and the most distinguished Chicago residents.
“I could not be more thrilled of the return of polo and spectators to Oak Brook,” adds Gopal Lalmalani, Village of Oak Brook President. “The entire state has been growing impatient on the slow return to normalcy. Residents now have a reason to get out of the house and enjoy the summer with family and close friends. I cannot think of a better way to spend a summer afternoon than at an Oak Brook Polo Club match.”
The Oak Brook Polo Club’s 2020 season will continue as always on the Prince of Wales Field, which is adjacent to the Butler National Golf Course and The Drake Hotel in Oak Brook. O’Leary says the Club’s all-tailgate plan will be limited to a maximum of 70 to 80 parking spots (or 35 to 40 vehicles per sideline) with spots assigned upon arrival. A maximum of six guests per tailgate are allowed and must arrive in one vehicle upon entry.
While coming up with a plan that would allow polo to continue safely and in full compliance was a challenge, he says everyone at Oak Brook Polo Club is still thrilled that the horses will again thunder across these beloved fields.
“Before the pandemic, we had a stellar season planned with themes and activities at every one of our events. Most of that had to be cancelled or postponed. But on the field, polo remained the same,” says O’Leary. “As a result, this is one of the most competitive polo seasons I’ve seen in the last five seasons since taking over polo. It is truly a thrill to watch and I can’t wait for spectators to see it. This is no croquet on horseback; this is professional polo to the likes of watching the Cubs or Bears. Our players are in it to win it!”
SAVE THESE DATES
Oak Brook Polo’s remaining 2020 summer schedule includes the following matches with pending special events:
- August 2: Cecil Smith Cup
- August 16: Chicago Polo Open
- August 30: Illinois Players Cup
- September 13: USPA NYTS National Championships
- September 20: Drake Challenge Cup
- September 27: USPA Butler International Cup
For details on ticket offerings and what’s available, visit oakbrookpoloclub.com/tickets. Additional information on rules and regulations or general questions can be addressed at oakbrookpoloclub.com or by calling 630-368-5095.