I ON EXCEPTIONAL LIVING - Gustavo Bilbao & Qatar Airways Chicago Beach Polo Cup

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PHOTO COURTESY OF IRENE MCHAELS

Long known as the stronghold for polo in North America, Chicago recently hosted the first ever Qatar Airways Chicago Beach Polo Cup. The tournament's founder, Gustavo Bilbao, hoped the tournament would re-ignite interest in the century old game in the United States.

"Growing up in Argentina, I used to hear about the US Polo Open taking place in Chicago," Bilbao said. "Polo and Qatar Airways both offer an exceptional and aspirational lifestyle experience."

"Together, we have brought entertainment and excitement to the city and put Chicago back on the polo map, where it belongs."

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PHOTO COURTESY OF GUSTAVO BILBAO

The origins of polo in Chicago date back to the 1950's when the U.S. Polo Open Championship was played at the Oak Brook Polo Club. The American interest for the sport revived during the 1960's and eventually in 1967, the USPA (United States Polo Association) moved its headquarters from New York, to Illinois.

By all accounts the event held at North Avenue Beach was an unbridled success, and the organizers are looking to continue the polo cup in 2017.

The Chicago Beach Polo Cup was held over the course of three days, September 9th through the 11th, with co-ed teams competing from six countries descending on Chicago.

The Royal Wales Polo Team walked away from North Avenue Beach with the event's first ever cup trophy, and will be ready to defend their title next summer.

The event was organized to re-introduce the North American audience to the game of polo. Known as the "Sport of Kings", polo is a game often connected to royalty. However, Bilbao and company are attempting to bring the game to a wider audience by setting up tournaments on custom-built polo grounds.

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PHOTO COURTESY OF FACEBOOK

Players rode their horses up to 30 miles per hour during the games as they attempted to score goals to win the tournament's trophy. A traditional polo field is about 300 yards by 160 yards. However, the ground on North Avenue Beach was slightly smaller than the size of an NFL field, giving spectators a far more intimate view of the players in action.

Over the course of the weekend as title sponsor, Qatar Airways hosted a variety of events that took place alongside the polo action. The Doha-based airline provided a VIP lounge throughout the weekend for fans and many of the area's well-known guests in attendance. Prior to each day's matches, team captains met at the Lounge to shake hands with a Qatar Airways representative, who was then given the honor of throwing out the first match ball of the day. Qatar Airways Country Manager, USA, Richard Oliver kick started proceedings on the first two days of the tournament, while Mr. Saurwein inaugurated the final day of competition and presented the champion's cup to the winners on Sunday evening. Also participating in the festivities were several Chicago area politicians and members of City Hall.

All proceeds of the tournament went to the Sentebale Foundation. The charity was founded by Great Britain's Prince Harry and strives to help vulnerable children in Lesotho, South Africa.
With this year's Chicago Beach Polo Cup such a success, next year's event should be even bigger.

Now that Chicago is back on the map for the international game that is polo, fans will have to wait and see if the Royal Wales Polo Team can retain its trophy in 2017.