THE BUTLER: Handicap tournament has long, storied history.

The Butler family trophy was inaugurated to honor Paul Butler, his remarkable family and their contributions to the chronicles of American polo history. The Butler Handicap began in 1954 and became an important USPA event for over six decades, and that included premier players, horses and polo club venues. In July of this year, the Greenwich Polo Club hosted the USPA Butler Handicap in Connecticut in a concerted effort with the USPA to re-launch and better memorialize this national tournament, which has been dormant for 20 years.

Paul Butler was born on June 23, 1892 in Chicago, Illinois and had three sons, Frank, Michael and Norman, and a daughter, Jorie.

Butler was president of the Butler Company, a conglomerate established in 1841 by his grandfather, Julius Butler, that included a wide diversity of business interests, including 65 divisions among them: ranching (his younger years were spent on ranches in the Dakota Territory and he oversaw Montana ranches in the 1940s); aviation (he was a pilot in World War I); and sports (a wide variety, including his passion for polo).

One of Paul Butler’s primary and enduring passions was horsemanship. Butler planted his first polo field in Oak Brook, 17 miles west of Chicago, in the 1920s when he founded Oak Brook Polo Club. However, the fields were plowed under when WWII broke out.

He was also the founder of Oak Brook, a residential suburb of Chicago incorporated in 1958. The holdings included over 3,600 acres of land for residential subdivisions and shopping centers, extensive polo grounds, three golf courses and wide expanses of land for hunting fields.

Butler was chairman of the Butler Paper Company from 1930 to 1965. In 1945, he founded the Butler Aviation Corporation, then the largest aviation company in the United States. He was also a director of the Nekoosa-Edwards Paper Company from 1960 to 1965. He was a co-founder of the Bank of Oak Brook, the Butler National Gold Club and the Oak Brook Utility Company, and organized Oak Brook Venture, a development company. Additionally, he backed a number of notable and successful Broadway shows including Kismet, Peter Pan and The Music Man. Paul’s son Michael followed in his father’s footsteps in terms of promoting the sport of polo, volunteering his talents to the USPA, as well as supporting the arts. In fact, Michael became an American theatrical producer best known for bringing the rock musical Hair from the public theater to Broadway in 1968.

Paul Butler went on to win many club and USPA tournaments, including six U.S. Open Polo Championships and four Butler Handicap titles. Further, he inaugurated and sustained a long list of international matches that drew legendary players from around the world. Butler served on the USPA Board of Governors and was a member of the Meadowbrook Polo Club. He was inducted in the Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame on March 3, 1995.

Standing on the International Field at Meadowbrook Polo Club before the start of the 1927 Westchester Cup, an international series between the United States and Great Britain, Butler prophesied, “Someday all of this will be gone and the center of polo will be Oak Brook.” Butler’s prophecy came true in 1953, according to a 1981 interview with George C. Sherman Jr.

Paul was a dear old friend. I knew him intimately from the 1950s through the 1970s, the years in which I played polo. The last Open Championship was played at Meadow Brook in 1953, and Paul had come east with his Oak Brook team of himself, Cecil Smith, Lewis Smith and Tom Healy. They made it to the finals but didn’t win. By then, Meadow Brook had been condemned by the State and a week of meetings with Paul, Dev Milburn and other interested parties resulted in Paul saying ‘I would never dream of taking the Open from Meadowbrook, but I would be happy to have the Open at Oak Brook.’ The next year the Open moved to Oak Brook where, with the exception of two years when it was held in California, the Open was played until 1979.”

Known for his generosity, kindness and sense of humor, Sherman once referred to him as one of the finest sportsman we have ever known.

By 1956, Oak Brook Polo Club had 14 polo fields and stabling for 400 horses, with games played six days a week during the season. The club also included grandstands, bleachers and box seats, a club house and 36 miles of tree-lined trails. Butler joined two polo fields so they could be used as an airstrip for incoming guests. Those guests included royalty, dignitaries and celebrities. Over the years, Prince Charles, Lord Cowdray, Maj. Ronald Ferguson, Lord Patrick Beresford, King Hussein, The Maharaja and Maharani of Jaipur, Audrey Hepburn, Vivien Leigh and others visited the club. Butler’s Oak Brook team also traveled far and wide to support other clubs, and Oak Brook hosted international teams from Argentina, Mexico and England.

Paul’s children and grandson Adam all helped run the Oak Brook Polo Club at one time or another. A gifted rider and player herself, Jorie was the second woman to be rated by the USPA (1969) after it began allowing women to register in 1956. Additionally, she organized the USPA Polo Pony Championship and helped establish its rules and registry. More recently, she served on the board of directors for the National Polo Museum and the Hall of Fame selection committee.

In a 1962 Sports Illustrated article, William Barry Furlong wrote, “Paul Butler is a shy, rich, abundantly selfcontained individual who at the treeripened age of 72 flies jet planes, backs Broadway musicals and is possessed by the most eclectic compulsion in sports: he collects polo fields. At last count, he had 14 of them—each about as large as nine football fields—on his estate in Oak Brook, Ill.”

One of Butler’s friends told Furlong, “The thing about this guy is that he’s nuts for anything you can do–not watch.” Butler made sure that can-do events were hosted in Oak Brook, including the U.S. Open Polo Championship, the PGA Tour’s Western Open, the title matches of the National Archery Association and the Oak Brook Hounds Horse Show, among a host of other events.

Daughter Jorie told Furlong, “He never cared much for Thoroughbred racing. He always liked riding better than watching races. ... Polo demands control and teamwork, and it has an element of danger that I think Daddy likes.”

Concerned with the encroachment of the big city suburbs, Butler incorporated the area and consulted with several experts to come up with a comprehensive plan for Oak Brook. The idea was to work out a plan for industry, as well as homes and recreational areas for people who work in those industries, while making sure no factories were allowed. The Village’s total residential development plan limits residents to a maximum of 10,000 people.

Commercial and industrial areas are divided into zones having different height and open-land-to-building ratios. Foot paths connect various sections of the village, which also benefits from a nature center.

In 1977, residents voted for the village to purchase from Bulter the Oak Brook Sports Core, which boasts an 18- hole golf course, bath and tennis club, polo fields and other recreational areas. Oak Brook was home to the USPA headquarters from 1954 to 1986 and hosted a great number of club and national events that included the U.S. Open Polo Championship and Butler Handicap from 1954 to 1978. In 1977, 19 teams competed in the President’s Cup while 13 teams vied for the U.S. Open, both held at Oak Brook.

In a 1962 ceremony honoring Paul Butler, William Ylvisaker (USPA chairman from 1970 to 1975) said, “With a dedicated, yet humble, approach, he [Butler] made Oak Brook the center of polo in our country. Eleven polo fields, stables for 450 horses, a magnificent clubhouse, plus many other facilities exemplify the magnitude of the plant. In addition, the Butler Handicap tournament has become a major and sought after trophy in the polo world. All this stemming from Paul Butler who served as a governor of our Association since 1941.”

The Butler Handicap was inaugurated in 1954, and was played every year until 1966 with the exception of 1961, ‘64 and ‘65. It was played uninterrupted from 1971-1990. It was brought back in 1995, then was not played again until 2006-2007. During that timespan, just about every notable player and a who’s who of Hall of Famers competed in the Butler Handicap.

USPA Executive Director Bob Puetz said, “I had the fortune of playing polo at Oak Brook during the 80s when the club was under the management of Michael Butler, son of founder Paul Butler. Oak Brook was the hub of summer polo and we hosted players from all over the county.

The Butler Handicap was one of the most sought after tournaments of the season. In 1987, I played for Michael Butler, his son Adam and Stuart McKenzie, one of the smartest players I’ve had the pleasure to play with. Winning the 1987 Butler Handicap is one of the high points of my polo career, not only because of the prestige of winning this historic cup but more importantly winning it with my dear friends Michael and Adam Butler, two generations of the Butler family, extending the wins of their father’s tournament and legacy.”

During the 1962 ceremony honoring Butler, Ylvisaker said it best: “We have neither the time nor would these be adequate words to pay full tribute to Paul Butler for his contribution to polo ...”

By Peter J. Rizzo

     
 

2015 Butler Handicap

The Greenwich Polo Club in Greenwich, Connecticut was pleased to host the return of the USPA Butler Handicap. Due to inclement weather that created scheduling problems for several prospective teams, just three teams entered the tournament.

The first game was played Sunday, July 19 on a sunny day, a welcome sight after all of the rain. The pleasing weather drew an enthusiastic crowd to cheer on the action between Airstream and KIG Both teams played an intense match that went into overtime. The Airstream team began the match with a one-goal advantage, and featured veteran team captain Peter Orthwein (A) ably assisted by Guillermo Aguerro (6), Michel Dorignac (6) and Mariano Gonzalez (7). Playing for KIG was team captain Mubashir “Bash” Kazi (A), Kris Kampsen (6), Matias Magrini (8) and Joaquin Panelo (4).

The teams were neck-and-neck with the score knotted at 2- 2 when fans made their way to the field for the half-time divot stomp. Panelo scored the lone field goal for K.I.G while Airstream benefitted from a goal apiece from Orthwein and Gonzalez. Airstream took control after the half, putting three goals on the scoreboard (two by Gonzalez then one by Aguerro) after a lone field goal by Kampsen. Aguerro and Kampsen traded goals in the fifth to keep Airstream ahead 6- 4. KIG regrouped for the last chukker, scoring three goals (two by Panelo and Kampsen’s third goal of the afternoon) while holding Airstream’s Aguerro to one, tying the game at seven goals apiece.

The match then went into sudden death overtime. The tension rose as Joaquin Panelo made a break away attempt for KIG, but a successful bump from Airstream shut down his attempt at the goal. Airstream got the ball back and ran with it until a whistle from the umpire stopped the action. The call was against KIG and the umpire dropped the ball at the 30- yard line. Michel Dorignac easily converted the Penalty 2 to win the game for Airstream.

Airstream’s Guillermo Aguerro was named MVP and Machitos Presumida, owned and played by KIG’s Matias Magrini, was named Best Playing Pony. Airstream advanced to the final match against White Birch scheduled for the following week.

Airstream was a fierce opponent, but it was the White Birch team of Santino Magrini (A), Hilario Ulloa (9), Mariano Aguerre (9) and team captain Peter Brant (2) that dominated the field to capture the Butler Handicap trophy.

Airstream received a one-goal handicap; however, Ulloa wasted no time in neutralizing it. Ulloa traded goals with Aguerro but Aguerre closed out the first chukker to give White Birch a 3-2 lead.

In the second chukker, White Birch bullied Airstream with five unanswered goals (one by Magrini, two by Ulloa and two by Aguerre). Airstream mounted a comeback, with Aguerro scoring two goals, however, Brant matched them to give White Birch a comfortable 10-4 halftime lead.

Airstream kept fighting, but White Birch matched it goal for goal in the fourth. White Birch then turned up the pressure, outscoring AirStream 4-1 in the fifth to head to the final chukker ahead 16-7. With White Birch on cruising speed in the sixth, the match ended 16-9. Aguerre led all scorers with six goals while Aguerro and Dorignac led Airstream with four goals apiece.

Polo historian Horace A. Laffaye presented trophies to both teams. Mariano Aguerre was voted Most Valuable Player and the Best Playing Pony went to Hilario Ulloa’s dark brown stallion Machitos Mesquite.

After the match, Aguerre said, “It is an honor to have a tournament of this level in the Northeast of the United States, with the history and tradition of the USPA Butler Handicap. Our team played very well. It was without a doubt, the best match of the season for White Birch.”

On behalf of Peter Brant and Greenwich Polo Club, we were thrilled to be selected by Jorie and Michael Butler—friends of ours for over 30 years—to host the 2015 Butler Handicap,” said Leighton Jordan, managing director of Greenwich Polo Club and USPA Northeast Circuit Governor. “We had very competitive teams playing in the 20- goal tournament and we would be honored to host this historic championship again next year.”

 
     

 

 
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