Palm Beach Polo Stadium Razed
By Alex Webbe
Nothing was more festive than the “pomp and circumstance” delivered by Palm Beach Polo and Country Club at its once proud stadium overlooking the pristine and manicured expanse of the Number 1 field.
“It really was another era,” reflected Guerry Stribling, former president of Gould Florida Inc., the operational entity behind the development of Wellington and Palm Beach Polo and Country Club.
“I remember hand walking the paperwork through the county offices to get the building permit that would allow us to pour the foundation for it,” he said. ‘We got the paperwork approved the day before Thanksgiving in 1978 and poured the foundation in the middle of teeming rain. We needed arc lights just to see where we were pouring.”
Ninety days later the stadium was open for business.
Over the years the stadium hosted major polo eventsLive that ranged from the $100,000 World Cup to the Cartier International Open. “Bubbles”, the Maharajah of Jaipur donated a cup to be played for while he was visiting, and the level of competition attracted the top international polo players in the world to the Palm Beaches for nearly four months every year.
Funded by a Fortune 200 company, the eventsLive staged at Palm Beach Polo and Country Club had no equals.
In one of the club’s opening ceremonies it had the mounted drill team of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police go through various formations as dozens of red-jacketed Canadian riders dazzled the spectators in the stands. The Christian rock group “Up with People” covered a third of the massive polo field (approximately 11 acres) to the delight of the crowds while the stadium served as a review stand for the annual Fourth of July fireworks presentation that was orchestrated by author George Plimpton, a regular throughout the season.
Elephant polo was featured on the field, along with performances by the Four Tops and a visit by Wild Kingdom’s Marlin Perkins.
Cadillac’s involvement resulted in a VIP parade at the beginning of each game with a fleet of the luxury cars parading in front of the bleachers on the east side of the field before depositing their precious cargos in front of the massive stucco structure.
The Palm Beach socialites were out in force in the club’s early days with Mary Sanford holding court while Winston and C. Z. Guest entertained and were entertained by some of the world’s best polo competition.
Porcelain queen Helen Boehm got her feet wet while sponsoring a polo team one season and was immediately hooked. Her Boehm teams competed throughout the years capturing some of the club’s most prized trophies.
“I remember when we were hosting the International Red Cross Ball,” said former stadium manager Tim O’Connor, “and the VIP parade was comprised of Rolls Royce’s. When it came time to put Mrs. Boehm into a parade car she noticed that it was a Bentley,” he said.
“She turned to me and said ‘I am a Rolls Royce owner, I won’t get into a Bentley’.
“We managed to smooth things over with her as another Rolls Royce pulled up to take her around the field,” he smiled.
Carter’s Ralph Destino hosted the Cartier International Open and the Cartier International Polo Ball while Michelob stepped up to the plate to sponsor the World Cup and a number of Michelob teams.
Polo players from Palm Beach’s storied past arrived to watch the world’s top players while reliving their days on the fields of the old polo fields in Gulf Stream. Days that recalled Porfirio Rubirosa and the Mdvani brothers, a trio of Russian “princes” who managed to make a career of marrying well while playing a passable game of polo.
“There are just so memories that I can’t recall just one,” said David Andrews, the former vice president of Wellington and the stadium’s polo announcer for 23 years.
“What was so pleasant about polo at the old stadium was that everyone could enjoy the event. You could dress up or dress down, there was something for everyone.”
Andrews recalled the presence of Merv Griffin and Zsa Zsa and Ava Gabor (who all bought properties at the club), and the many celebrities who swarmed to the festivities that surrounded the games.
“Certainly the appearance of Prince Charles and Princess Diana had to be a favorite of everyone’s,” he added, “but there were so many notable people who appeared there that I can’t pick just one occasion as the most memorable.”
Prince Charles traveled to Wellington on three separate occasions to play polo, driving himself to and from the field in Guerry Stribling’s 1957 blue Mercedes 280 SE 3.5 convertible while his bodyguards trailed behind.
The box seats were continually sprinkled with the Hollywood set that included everyone from Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward to Larry Hagman, at the height of the success of Dallas.
Linda Blair, star of The Exorcist, and Rocky’s Sylvester Stallone were regulars with drop-ins by artist Andy Warhol, authors Hunter Thompson and Jerzy Kozinski. Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York made Wellington a regular stop, as did Stephanie Powers and Jane Seymour. Charlton Heston spoke of his polo playing days in Hong Kong, with fellow actors Robert Stack and Cliff Robertson sharing similar stories.
General Alexander Haig and Donald Trump were also to be found among the regulars as the supporting base for the game continued to spread.
“I took great delight in the members of the Piaget celebrity team,” offered Wellington’s former vice president of development, “Bill Devane, Pamela Sue Martin, Alex Cord and Jameson Parker,” he added. “I remember Doug Sheehan (Knot’s Landing) telling me after the Sunday game that he had to head back west to kiss women.”
Now all that remains of the once regal stadium with its yellow and white canvassed roof is a pile of rubble and possible plans for an equestrian review stand.
She was an elegant lady and takes with her many fond memories for everyone who met her.