(All matches start at 2 pm)

At Palm Beach Polo Equestrian Center, Wellington
March 7 -- $7S,000 Florida Open Grand Prix
March 14 -- $100,000 Lyte Now Gold Coast Grand Prix

At Bob Thomas Equestrian Center, Tampa
March 28 - $50,000 Grand Prix of Tampa
April 4 -- $50,000 Grand Prix of Tampa
April 10 -- $150,000 Budweiser American Invitational (at Raymond James Stadium, 7 p.m.)

(All matches start at 3 p.m)

At Palm Beach Polo Wellington
March 7 -- Gold Cup of the Americas (26-goal)
March 14 - Gold Cup ofthe Americas Final (26-goal)
March 21 - U.S. Open (26-goal)
March 28 - U.S. Open (26-goal)
April 5 - U.S. Open Final (26-goal)

At Royal Palm Beach, Boca Raton
March 7 - USPA Gold Cup (26-goal)
March 14 - USPA Gold Cup Final (26-goal)
March 21 - $50,000 International Gold Cup (l8-goal)
March 28 - $50,000 International Gold Cup (18-goal)

Polo, with its
pomp and circumstance,
divot-stomping and
champagne swilling,
coupled with the athleticism
of horse and rider,
has evolved into quite a spectacle.

It did not begin that way.

Yes, the horses and riders were athletic. Yes, there was probably drinking. And yes, a round object was used as a ball - often the heads of vanquished opponents.

1t is now quite a civilized sport in Florida. especially at Palm Beach Polo and Country Club in Wellington. With its four-month schedule and most of the world's best players, Palm Beach Polo is acknowledged as the winter polo capital of the world.

Each team has four players, rated on a scale of-1 to 10 (the higher the better). Although the word goal is used after the rating, it bears no relation to the number of goals A player scores in a match, but to their ability. A player's horsemanship, hitting, quality of horses, team play, game sense and sportsmanship are the factors considered in determining his handicap.

The team handicap is the sum of its player`s handicaps. A 26-goal tournament means the total of all four player's handicaps must not be equal or below 26 goals.

What makes polo unique is that the team owner, or patron, is usually an active member of the quartet. It would be 1ike George Steinbrenner playing first base for the New York Yankees.

The lO-goalers are the Babe Ruths and Michael Jordans of their sport. There are only I5 members in this elite club and eight -- Mariano Aguerre, Mike Azzaro, Adolfo Cambiaso, Lalo Castagnolo, Carlos Gracida, Memo Gracida, Pite Merlos and Sebastian Merlos -- will play at Palm Beach Polo during the 1999 season. No other club in the United States will get more than four at any one time.

While the rich and famous have become synonymous with polo, especially in Wellington, spectators are from every walk of life and many enjoy the ambience and people-watching.

On a field measuring 300 by 160 yards, the action is fast and thrilling. Teams exchange ends after every.~.oat to even out field and weather conditions -- and possibly confuse novice spectators.

Polo's version of March Madness begins in earnest at Palm Beach Polo with two of the three highest-rated tournaments in the country -- the U.S. Open and Gold Cup of the Americas. At least 10 teams are expected to enter these tournaments in 1999.

Related Stories:

Palm Beach Profile

Florida Horse Country

Florida Sports

Polo is played throughout world and is quite popular in Florida. Other top venues include Royal Palm Polo in Boca Raton and the Sarasota Polo Club. Neither has the world-wide reputation, high-caliber of polo or glamorous celebrities that have punctuated every season since the Wellington club opened in I979

The other major tournament in the United States, the 26-goal Gold Cup, is held at Royal Palm Polo, usually with a maximum of six teams.

The polo season in Florida begins in mid-December or early January and continues through the end of April. Other clubs include Gulfstream in Lake Worth, Gateway in Fort Myers, Millwood in Citra, Tampa Bay, The Villages in Lady Lake and Windsor in Vero Beach.

No matter what month, the National Polo Museum and Hall of Fame is open in Lake Worth, showcasing the history and top players. For information, call 561/969-3210.

For information about Palm Beach Polo, call 561/793-1440. For information about Royal Palm, Polo, call 561/994-2552. For information about Sarasota Polo Club, call 94I/907-0000.

Mike (Y.A.) Teitelbaum is a freelance writer who lives year-round in Wellington, Florida. His stories have appeared in the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, POLO Magazine, SPUR, and International Polo Review.