The first record of a polo game in Aiken dates to March 27, 1882, in the Charleston News and Courier. Just six years after the introduction of the sport to the U.S., and four years before the first Westchester Cup matches in Newport, Rhode Island, Aiken had already been dubbed the "Newport of the South." It was the winter home of many of polo's pioneers, including Thomas Hitchcock, W.C. Eustis, and Harry Payne Whitney, teammates on the Meadow Brook team that won the Senior Championship in 1897 and '98; and later Devereux Milburn, who would team with Whitney and the Waterbury brothers to win the Westchester Cup for the U.S. in 1909, '11, and '13.
It is hard to imagine a family having a more lasting impression on a city than the Hitchcocks had on Aiken; they made a permanent preserve of the [Hitchcock Woods]-the largest urban forest in the country; established the Winter Colony, an area on the south side of town where grand mansions line red clay roads left unpaved as a courtesy to the horses; and founded the Aiken Prep School, whose alumni include the Cushmans, Bostwicks, Pete (8), Charlie (6), and Rick (6); Alan Corey, Jr. (9); the Gerrys, Ebby (9), Bobby (8), Eddy (5), and Henry (5); Phillip Iglehart (7); the Knoxes, Norty (8) and Seymour (5); Jimmy Mills (8); Billy Post (8); J.C. Rathborne (7); Jules Romfh (6); and Charlie Von Stade (8). Many of these great players learned the game from Mrs. Thomas Hitchcock, who got them started with bicycle polo at Aiken Prep and then taught them polo on what was then the "Meadow Lark Field" and is now the sand ring next to the Whitney Polo Field.
The Whitney Field, which is the oldest continued played polo field in the country, was actually built by Thomas Hitchcock and later sold to W.C. Whitney, who established a permanent land trust for both the field and the racetrack surrounding it. The Powderhouse polo fields are now also a part of the Whitney Trust, all but guaranteeing polo a lasting place in the life of the city.
One of the first things that attracted the equestrian classes to Aiken was the climate, with mild winters and early springs. The soil produces grasses ideal for horses, and the area remains a center for equestrian activities of all sorts, with hundreds of horses in training each year. The Aiken Triple Crown, held each spring, involves flat racing, steeplechase, and polo. The Winter Colony has become increasingly popular with carriage driving enthusiasts in recent years, due in large part to the unpaved roads; some trails in the Hitchcock Woods have also been upgraded to accommodate carriage traffic, though bicycles and motor vehicles are still prohibited.
Training polo ponies has been an Aiken tradition for at least 90 years, beginning with Fred Post in 1912. Post was a legendary horseman in his day, and his son, Billy, went on to be an 8-goal player, as noted above. The tradition continues today with the establishment of training facilities by Owen Rinehart, Adam Snow, Tiger Kneece, John Gobin, Justin Pimsner, and others. Aiken is soon to be the city with the most polo fields than any other city in the U.S.
During the "Golden Age" of polo, and through the 1950s, Aiken was the winter capital of polo in the U.S., prior to the establishment of the Gulfstream, Royal Palm, and Palm Beach polo clubs in South Florida. Games in excess of 20 and even 30 goals were commonplace. Nowadays, Langdon Road Polo and New Bridge Polo and Country Club hosts 16 and 20-goal tournaments in the fall and the spring, and the Frances Post Santamarina Cup continues what one hopes will be a new tradition of high-goal benefit games.
The first of the recent series, held to help preserve the historic Winthrop Field, featured two 25-goal teams and ended in a 14-14 tie. The remarkable statistic from that game was that the two teams combined took only four knock-ins, and one team did not have a shot go wide until the sixth chukker. The Aiken Preparatory School Challenge Cup, held each year, boasted two 32-goal teams, and raised the level of polo on historic Whitney Field to a level not seen there in decades.