By Anna Zetterberg
Assistant Managing Editor
The young village of Wellington has stepped into the international spotlight, making a name for itself in the lavish world of polo.
Polo in Wellington flaunts an enviable lifestyle and rich equestrian culture. It all began with William T. “Bill” Ylvisaker’s sharp entrepreneurship and passion for polo.
On Saturday, Feb. 6, Ylvisaker, the visionary who first established polo in Wellington, passed away. This past week, the annual Ylvisaker Cup, named in his honor, carried more significance than usual.
His mark on South Florida and the world is truly remarkable. To honor polo legendary Ylvisaker, the American flag was lowered to half-mast on Sunday, Feb 7.
“The passing of Bill Ylvisaker reminds all of us of just how much he contributed to Wellington and the polo world in general,” said John Wash, president of Club Operations at International Polo Club Palm Beach. “It was his vision and foresight that made the Wellington community the international capital of polo and equestrian activities.”
It was Ylvisaker, nick-named “Wellington polo’s grandfather,” who is credited for bringing the regal sport to Wellington in 1978. Now considered the most prominent equestrian and polo community in the U.S., Wellington was once an unpromising, swampy piece of land.
When Ylvisaker first realized his dream for Wellington, he took Gene Mische, founder of the Winter Equestrian Festival, to the location in his jeep.
“There’s nothing but trees, sand, hills and shrubs. We’re driving around and he’s telling me all the things he’s going to do. I said, ‘Bill, have you been smoking?’” Mische told the Palm Beach Daily News in 2002.
Ylvisaker, a developer and experienced polo player, purchased the land in 1976 and constructed the facility in about a year.
It is commonly agreed that Wellington would never have come to fruition without the polo grounds that now constitute a substantial part of the economy.
“It is commonly accepted that the economic impact of the equestrian industry in Palm Beach County is an excess of $500 million per year,” said Don Dufresne, chairman of the Equestrian Preserve Committe. “Polo certainly contributes a substantial amount to that.”
Polo was a part of Wellington before Wellington was even recognized by the state. It wasn’t until 1995 that Wellington became an official town in Florida.
Wellington’s prominence and prestige is globally admired due to its renowned polo and equestrian events. Because of its enticing elegance and thrilling games of high-goal polo, it has attracted such notables as Princess Diana, Prince Charles, Madonna, Amber Valetta, Kelly Ripa, Tommy Lee Jones and Tinsley Mortimer.
These notables along with true polo-enthusiasts understand that polo is more than just a game; it’s a lifestyle.
At International Polo Club Palm Beach (IPC), that lifestyle is showcased in its palm tree-lined entrance, regal grandstands, world-class high-goal polo, gourmet brunch and high-status fans.
Though it’s only a short drive to Wellington, the polo club might as well be its own world, complete with its own language. But knowing all the terms of the game and the name of every player isn’t essential to fit in.
Many guests attend for the social scene, at least in the Nespresso Grande Pavilion tent. The V.I.P. guests make their entrance in Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Bentleys, and step out with fabulosity in eye-catching fashion.
Many of the women wear wide-brimmed hats, fierce designer sunglasses and pumps. The men don’t make statements quite as dramatic, but look sharp wearing classy button-down shirts or of course, polos.
Champagne, hors d’oeuvres and lattes are offered in abundance as guests enjoy the majesty of the horses and grace of the players front row.
Field-side gourmet brunch is also available, provided by New York City’s world-famous Bistrot-Bagetelle.
Besides the exquisite food and service, a DJ keeps the energy up with lively music. High-class fashion is always featured in the tent, coming from Palm Beach’s famous Worth Avenue. Still, some people don’t want to go to a party; they’d rather bring their own.
Tailgating has been part of the polo tradition in Wellington since IPC first opened in 1978. Each spot is reserved for the 17-week season and includes a canopy and place to park your car.
Kids of tail-gating families are constantly sprinting around in games of football, field hockey, Frisbee or polo (with shorter sticks and no horses). The delicious smell of barbeque flows through the breeze to the parking lot.
It’s a fun atmosphere, where every Sunday afternoon is a party.
From the classy lifestyle to the rich history of a man who turned an idea into a legend, polo in Wellington is a thriving piece of Palm Beach County’s culture.