Myopia’s historic Club House has borne witness to 120 years of hunting, golf, and polo history, as well as created a few sporting legends of its own. By Andrew Conway
A wonderful story, recounted by Edward Weeks in his book Myopia 1875-1975, describes an early polo match at Gibney Field with a family team, the Carys, from Buffalo. “The visitors had a pure blood line with three of the four players being brothers,” writes Weeks, “but one of the boys had a bad fall and lay unconscious on the sidelines.
“The game was stopped for a time, whereupon Mother Cary, who came with the team to back up her boys, was heard to say: ‘Why this delay? Bring on another Cary and let the game proceed!’
“The fourth brother was duly produced, the polo togs (including riding boots) transferred from the unconscious brother to the conscious one and the game did go on, with Buffalo coming out the winner, or so I believe.”
Whether the story is true or apocryphal, it speaks volumes about the indomitable spirit and passionate sportsmanship that are the foundation stones of the oldest active polo club in America and its historic Club House.
Nestled in bucolic countryside and surrounded by polo fields, an 18-hole golf course, tennis courts, a swimming pool, riding paddocks, stables, and kennels, this delightful Club House has borne witness to 120 years of hunting, golf, and polo history and created more than a few sporting legends of its own. Incorporated as the Myopia Hunt Club in 1892, the classic Colonial building actually dates back to 1772. It was first commissioned by Colonel Robert Dodge, whose family lived there until 1866, when the property was sold to local farmer John Gibney (hence Gibney Field).
The Myopia Club originally started as a gentleman’s sporting club in Winchester, Massachusetts, in 1875—several of the founding members were short-sighted and wore glasses, which led to lighthearted banter and the official name of the club—but it soon needed more open space as the fox hunting division of the club expanded. Myopia Fox Hounds leased land from the Gibneys and first hunted in Hamilton in 1882. They established the Myopia Hunt Club the following year, leased the farmhouse until 1891, and bought the building and incorporated it as the new Club House in 1892.
While fox hunting was the primary sport, the first polo game was played on Gibney Field in 1888. Golf was formally introduced six years later—four U.S. Opens were played here, the last one in 1908—and outdoor sports such as tennis, three-day eventing, and other equestrian disciplines were later added to the club’s charter.
Today, the Club House is a sylvan retreat for 350 private members who enjoy privileged access to all of the superb sporting facilities and one of the most beautiful, charming, and historic country club houses in America.
A peek inside the unassuming front door reveals a welcoming entrance hall, which opens to the wood-paneled Polo Room, decorated with vintage photographs, and informal Men’s Bar (in name only today), the venue for a well-earned drink after a round of golf or a few chukkas of polo. Cozy sittings rooms to the left of the entrance hall lead to two elegant dining salons overlooking the 18th hole, the more formal Parker Room and Card Room, and a grand Ballroom and patio, which hosts social functions through the year.
Quirky touches abound, such as the original wooden lockers behind the entrance hall, which once concealed liquor during the Prohibition era and still contain bottles belonging to current members who like to drink their own tipple at the 19th hole. An adjacent building, known as the Lower Club House, features more dining and leisure facilities, and an impressive 26-stall stable block is a hive of human and equine activity during the annual summer polo season.
While the Club House remains private, open only to members and their guests, it has welcomed many international dignitaries over the decades, including Queen Elizabeth’s daughter Princess Anne, who is an accomplished equestrian, Princess Grace of Monaco, and some of the best polo professionals and players in America and around the world.
It would be easy to think of Myopia as an ivory tower, devoid of social conscience, but nothing could be further from the truth. Conservation and land preservation have been two of the club’s raisons d’être since its inception, and today’s membership is no less passionate about those important causes. A century ago, Myopia members needed grounds to fox hunt, but in recent years the hunt, polo, and equestrian disciplines of the club have all made great efforts to champion open space for the wider community, supporting local organizations such as the Essex County Trail Association, Essex County Greenbelt Association, and Trustees of Reservation.
The founding fathers of Myopia might have been lampooned for being near-sighted, but their far-sighted approach to creating an exclusive private country club with a heartfelt community spirit was nothing short of visionary. Even Mother Cary would approve.
At Myopia Polo in South Hamilton and Stage Hill in Newbury, polo lessons can get you swinging a mallet in short order. By Jeanne O’Brien Coffey
If there’s one thing Peter Poor loves, it’s introducing amateurs to the sport of polo. “My dad was very encouraging of new players… and I’ve tried to carry that on,” says Poor, who runs Stage Hill Polo School in Newbury.
By all accounts, Poor is doing a great job. He has been teaching people to play polo since 1983, and a sizable number of people on the field at Myopia—and around New England—got their start at his stable. That’s partly because Poor makes it easy; he has a string of polo ponies and offers classes year-round—in a ring in the winter and outdoors in the summer.
Poor works with everyone from experienced equestrians to beginners. He has had equal success with getting the new horsemen playing as quickly as possible, as long as they are committed to learning. And that means some not-so-fun classroom time. “Rules come first,” Poor says. “They need to learn what to expect.”
Cissie Snow, co-manager of the Myopia Polo club and the Myopia coaching league instructor and umpire, agrees that the rules are a critical first step. “Ultimately, it is all about the safety of the horse and rider,” she says. “You have eight people, mounted on eight horses, all chasing after one ball… If you don’t understand the rules, it can be very dangerous.”
Snow also has a lot of experience teaching people who have never ridden a horse to play polo, but she admits that it’s easier for the kids she coaches on the Harvard University polo team to absorb and execute the rules and plays all at once than it is for more mature learners. “It’s like trying to pat your head and rub your tummy [at the same time],” she quips.
For rank beginners, Myopia offers primarily individual lessons, because the club doesn’t have a string of teaching ponies. At Stage Hill, group lessons—which can cost as little as $50 if players can find a Living Social or other web deal—are the norm. All you need to bring to your first lesson is shoes with a short heel (think riding boots), comfortable pants, a helmet, and gloves to help avoid blisters. Once a player is familiar with the basics, Myopia offers a summer coaching league, which allows beginners to play a four-chukker match several times a week.
While the initial investment in playing polo seems low, it can be a slippery slope, Poor warns. He jokes that the hardest part about learning to play polo might be “learning to write big checks.” In all seriousness, he adds, once you start, it is addictive. “I’ve had beginners who, within a year, are playing matches and own one or two ponies.”
Myopia in South Hamilton offers lessons June 1 to mid-September; call 978-468-POLO for details. Stage Hill in Newbury offers lessons year-round; call 978-463-8668.
Much care goes into preparing ponies for play. Here, take a look inside Myopia Hunt Club’s stables, and meet the trainers and stable hands who tend to the beautiful beasts. Photographs by Bob Packert
Myopia hosts one of the longest-running hunts in the country. By Jeanne O’Brien Coffey
Long before the polo craze hit the North Shore, Myopia was known for hunting. In fact, in 1881, the hunt stole the spotlight from baseball, the first sport played by club members. Since then, the Myopia Hunt has been known as one of the oldest recognized hunts in continuous existence in America.
At that time, Myopia Hunt Club centered around Winchester, Massachusetts, where the Prince family, all sport and horse enthusiasts, had their home. As Alan Forbes writes in his book, Early Myopia, “It is hard…to believe that this territory over which Myopians chased the fox was through parts of the now thickly settled towns of Winchester, Stoneham, Lexington, Arlington, Belmont, Medford, and Woburn. At that time, however, there were many farming districts in these towns.”
In many ways, the history of the Myopia Hunt mirrors that of the history of the country, from stories of development encroaching on open fields to the leading role women took in keeping the hunt active during war times. “The Myopia hunt is special because of its ability to adapt to a changing world,” says Mary Ann Esdaile, who has been hunting with Myopia since 1978 and has served on the Myopia Hunt Committee for about 15 years.
The first change came shortly after the hunt was established. In the late 1800s, the hunt started using land leased at Gibney’s Farm in Hamilton, and soon after purchased the farm and moved the operations to Essex County. From there, the hunt grew and thrived, both as a social scene and a place for city dwellers to experience green fields and fresh air. While it was considered unladylike for women to play polo, women were always welcome to participate in the hunt, Esdaile says. “Women have always had an active role in the Myopia Hunt,” she explains, adding that the Hunt Committee, which makes the decisions on how the hunt is organized, as well as plans meet dates, fundraisers, routes, entertainment, and all other business, currently has seven female members, including new joint master Kim Cutler.
“Actually, we owe the continuous existence [of the hunt] to a woman,” Esdaile says. Anna Prince, the wife of Master Gordon Prince, kept the hunt going during World War II, when her husband was in service along with every other able-bodied man. Mrs. Prince took the horn and kept the hounds going, with the help of her young children and an older hunt servant named Chuck Haley, “so the boys would have something to come home to,” Esdaile recalls.
As late as the 1950s, both live hunts, where dogs and riders chase an actual fox, and “drag” hunts, where a scent is laid for the dogs and riders to chase, were available for participants. However, development encroached on the live hunt in 1952, Esdaile says, when a clever fox dashed into the town library. “Live hunting became too unpredictable,” she says.
These days, the drag hunt doesn’t even involve the scent of a fox, Esdaile notes; instead, the dogs sniff for Anisette liqueur. “The hounds are trained as puppies to follow this scent, and treats are given as reinforcement,” she explains, adding, “This practice prevents hounds from following live quarry, such as real foxes or deer and coyote. [Therefore,] no live animals are ever harmed.”
Caring for the land and the creatures that inhabit it is a key reason for the hunt’s continued success, Esdaile says. “Our hunt has survived two world wars, pressure from land developers, and the loss of country ways,” she notes. “We owe this to our far-sighted masters and dedicated members of the field, who combine their love of this sport with respectful relations with landowners and support and development of local conservation organizations, to ensure a long and successful future for the Myopia Hunt and preservation of open space for all to enjoy.”
A look back in time at the history of Myopia Polo and why it still matters today. By Alexandra Pecci
When 17-year-old Crocker Snow, Jr. rolled up to an Air Force base in Tucson, Arizona, to visit his half-brother, the late Don Little, he likely never imagined that Little’s invitation to “bang around” with a polo mallet would help lead to the rebirth of Myopia Polo Club. “One thing led to another,” Snow says. “It wasn’t any great master plan. It was more spontaneous combustion.”
Whether the revival was planned or not doesn’t matter; what did matter was that Myopia Polo was in dire need of a renaissance. Many of the area’s polo families had been splintered by war as their sons left to enlist before and during WWII, and by the mid 1950s, the historic Gibney Field had nearly turned into a hayfield, thanks to 20 years of neglect during the war and post-war years. That overgrown field was a far cry from Myopia’s early days in the 1880s, when the matches were heralded by brass bands and chronicled in newspaper reports, and where hundreds of spectators from across the North Shore would roll up in their carriages to watch.
The year 1887 saw the first polo match played at Gibney Field, making Myopia Polo Club the oldest active polo club in America. It was also one of the charter members of the United States Polo Association, and according to Snow, is the only one of the original five members that is still in existence.
During the decades that followed, polo’s popularity grew, and in 1907, Gibney Field hosted one of the first formal intercollegiate games between Harvard and Yale. Fathers and sons played side-by-side, and by the 1920s, Myopia Polo Club was hosting an annual invitational tournament, with as many as eight visiting teams coming to Hamilton.
Although the post-WWII era was tough on the club, the love of polo on the North Shore was simply lying dormant, waiting to be revitalized. Snow says Little pushed him to once again encourage polo back home in Hamilton, especially among those who were involved with Myopia before the war.
“There were a lot of people who had played, and they were just waiting for some young blood to come along,” Snow remembers. He was one of the ones who were involved with first cutting away the field’s overgrowth, helping to revive the momentum and player interest, and gradually getting Gibney Field back in shape for polo.
The duo’s efforts paid off. By the late 1960s and early ’70s, Myopia was once again a polo powerhouse in Massachusetts, with bigger crowds, more tournament participation, and more sponsorships than ever. It was even featured in the Steve McQueen film The Thomas Crown Affair. Don Little was captain of polo at that time and instrumental in promoting the sport at Myopia, according to Snow; he also eventually served as president of the United States Polo Association.
Today, Myopia Polo Club is experiencing yet another high point. According to Snow, the club still recognizes that “young blood” keeps the club strong into the future; therefore, Myopia has been aligning itself strongly with Harvard’s polo club, which reformed in 2006 after a long hiatus. “We really have that connection with Myopia,” says Harvard women’s polo captain Marion Dierickx, whose team regularly practices there.
“The more we can link Harvard polo with Myopia polo, the better,” Snow says. “Harvard is kind of infusing Myopia Polo with young blood all the time.”
Even beyond the relationship with Harvard, Snow says Myopia isn’t dominated by professionals. Instead, there’s an intentional family environment at Myopia and a focus on developing young players. For example, there’s Seppi Colloredo-Mansfeld—son of Franz Colloredo-Mansfeld, Myopia’s Captain of Polo—who is captain of the Yale men’s team and first played polo at Myopia; his brothers play there, too.
And then there’s Snow himself, whose father and three sons played at Myopia. In fact, one of his sons, Adam Snow, is a professional 10-goal player who learned to play at Myopia. “We’ve got a history of developing young amateur talent that may or may not turn professional and succeed in the professional world of polo,” Snow says.
The focus on young players and families, along with its smaller size and rural Massachusetts location, means that Myopia doesn’t have the flash of some of the country’s high-powered polo clubs. But it also means that the field, with its bucolic surroundings and little quirks, looks much the way it did when polo was first played in South Hamilton in 1887. There’s still a dip in the clubhouse end of the field—one that used to confuse spectators who couldn’t see which team scored until they came riding back. And the footing of Gibney Field is still great, according to Snow.
“It’s smaller, and it’s by no means the perfect field that you would see in Florida now, but it’s got a wonderful setting and all kinds of character,” Snow says. “[Myopia] Polo is still the Sunday games that are played at Gibney Field; still played on the same field that they were played on in the 19th century.”
Harvard vs. Yale it’s known as ‘The Game.’ Meet the players, coaches, and alumni who keep this ivy tradition alive. By Alexandra Pecci, photographs by Adam Detour
In Cambridge, Massachusetts, and New Haven, Connecticut, some things can be relied upon as surely as the sun rises each morning. Summer turns to fall, and there’s football, known simply as The Game. Winter turns to spring and there’s rowing and the Harvard-Yale Regatta, the country’s oldest inter-collegiate sporting event. Blue and Crimson clash, again and again.
For a century and a half, the Ivy League rivalry between Harvard and Yale, two of America’s oldest and most prestigious universities, has played out in the athletic arena. Add to the pantheon of that rivalry polo, once again.
When Harvard polo was reborn in 2006 after a more than decade-long hiatus, the Harvard-Yale polo rivalry was resurrected along with it.
“They were two of the first intercollegiate teams ever to play each other,” says Crocker Snow, himself a graduate of Harvard and one of Harvard’s polo coaches. In fact, Harvard and Yale played against each other in 1907 for one of the first—if not the first—formal intercollegiate polo matches in the United States.
It’s a rivalry that’s a natural extension of the history of polo in America, as well as the history of the two universities. Harvard was founded in 1636, making it the oldest institute of higher learning in the country. Yale is the third-oldest, founded in 1701. The two universities were already athletic rivals in the world of football and rowing by the time polo first made its way from Great Britain to the United States in the late 1800s, and it didn’t take long for the sport to work its way up and down the East Coast and establish itself at the country’s universities.
“Harvard and Yale were probably the two most established universities on the East Coast at that time,” Snow says. “A lot of people were horsemen, and the rivalry was triggered.”
The schools and their polo teams not only share similar histories; they also share similar struggles. Both the Harvard and Yale polo clubs have had their ups and downs in the more than 100 years since the two teams first met on Myopia’s Gibney Field. Yale’s team recently faced the closure of the stables at the Yale Armory, and Harvard’s team has long had periods of inactivity.
“Both teams are working hard to keep in shape,” says Lucy Topaloff, captain of the Yale women’s team. She notes that both teams must travel off campus to play and practice and trailer their horses to matches.
“Harvard has almost the same facilities as Yale, and [the teams] are therefore on about the same level,” she says.
In addition, both teams have several first-time polo players and encourage anyone who’s interested to come out, learn, and join the teams. In fact, many players had never “held a polo mallet before Harvard,” Snow says.
“We share a similar niche in the intercollegiate polo world in that neither team has recruited athletes; we don’t enjoy the privileges of being a varsity team like other schools,” says Yale men’s team captain Seppi Colloredo-Mansfeld. Instead, both the Harvard and Yale teams are club sports. “And,” he adds, “our teams consist mainly of players who began riding or playing polo in college.”
Marion Dierickx, captain of the Harvard women’s team, also points to the teams’ recent struggles when considering the rivalry between the two schools.
“Both the Yale and the Harvard teams have had troubled times in recent years, and so definitely both teams have been reborn over the past four or five years and have had to emerge out of these difficult times,” she says.
But despite the teams’ challenges—or perhaps because of them—the Harvard and Yale teams are well-matched, which makes it exciting for them to meet in the polo arena. Both teams’ captains and coaches say the two teams play hard against one another, and because the skill level is similar, each game is a nail-biter.
“The rivalry isn’t one-sided and the games are close and often fun to watch,” says Colloredo-Mansfeld.
Dierickx, of the Harvard women’s team, says she feels like the stakes are high whenever she plays Yale.
“Every goal that we score is important to us,” she says.
The Harvard-Yale rivalry also extends beyond the shores of the United States. Each year, the two teams are invited to play at the Jack Wills Varsity Polo Match at the historic Guards Polo Club in the United Kingdom. The club is historic and extremely prestigious—its president is Queen Elizabeth’s husband, The Duke of Edinburgh. Each June, the match pits traditional school rivals, such as Oxford and Cambridge and Eton and Harrow, against each other. In recent years, Harvard and Yale have been among those rivals to play at Guards Polo Club in front of a crowd that numbers in the thousands.
“That’s really the mainstay of where the Harvard-Yale rivalry plays out,” Dierickx says.
The polo matches between the two schools are just one of the ways that the two universities compete. As Dierickx says, “the Harvard-Yale rivalry is something that’s school-wide that goes a long way beyond polo.”
Harvard and Yale are constantly in competition with each other, whether it’s regarding athletics or academics. “When you come to Yale, part of the indoctrination, I guess, is that Harvard is your rival,” says Liz Brayboy, alumni advisor for the Yale team, and a former Yale polo player herself. “They are sort of the most parallel school to Yale, so they become a kind of natural rival.”
With that in mind, the two polo teams usually schedule a match to coincide with the much-anticipated annual Harvard-Yale football match-up, a meeting every November that’s so important and exciting to both schools that it’s been dubbed “The Game.”
“The Harvard-Yale matches help boost interest in polo among other students when they are advertised in the same way as ‘The Game,’ which is why we usually have a Y-H match the Friday before it,” says Topaloff.
Although the teams are heated on the field, the rivalry is a very friendly one; don’t expect any Red Sox-Yankees-style brawls during Harvard-Yale matches.
“I don’t mean to say it isn’t competitive,” says Snow. “It’s very competitive. But there’s a certain competitive camaraderie about intercollegiate polo.”
Plus, the world of intercollegiate polo is relatively small, and in the case of Harvard and Yale, very supportive and even familial. The players are friendly with each other off the field, and they lend each other horses if ever the visiting team needs them. One of Harvard’s coaches, Cissie Snow, has hosted the Yale women’s team for summer clinics. Two of Crocker Snows’ sons Adam and Nick, both professional polo players, played for Yale and Harvard, respectively. And Yale men’s captain Colloredo-Mansfeld is from South Hamilton, Massachusetts, while his father, Franz Colloredo-Mansfeld, is a Harvard grad and current captain of Myopia Polo.
“Both sides really want to win, and they play very hard, but there is no bad behavior or poor sportsmanship,” says Seppi Colloredo-Mansfeld.
But even with all the friendship and good feelings between the two teams, the Harvard-Yale rivalry is still one that gets the players fired up. As Colloredo-Mansfeld says, he looks forward to playing his school’s historic rival “just because they’re Harvard. Yalies always get excited to play Harvard.”