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We Are Aiken County: Whitney Field still going strong as polo venue more than 140 years later

Mar. 16—Editor's note: We Are Aiken County is a series of articles that will run through March 16. It celebrates people, places and events that shaped Aiken County.

Sports are often associated with the venues where the games are played.

Think Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament, the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club and Wimbledon, and old Yankee Stadium and baseball.

Whitney Field might not have the grandeur of those venues, but it's arguably the most important polo venue in the United States.

The polo facility not far from downtown Aiken was the scene of a game in March 1882, and it's been played here ever since.

The sport has been played at Whitney Field on an annual basis since 1882. It's considered to be the oldest field in the United States that has remained in continuous use. The games have gone on despite world wars, economic downturns and even COVID-19.

"This is where polo really jumped and developed into a sport that became the place of champions," Elliott Levy, the former director of the Aiken County Historical Museum, once said. "It was right here. It was kind of amazing. Whitney Field was where they played. The real games of polo, the best players, played right here."

Almost every great American polo player has competed at Whitney Field at some point in their careers. That includes Thomas Hitchcock, Tommy Hitchcock, Devereux Milburn and Harry Payne Whitney from a century or more ago to modern-day players such as Tommy Biddle Jr., Julio Arellano, Adam Snow, Owen Rinehart and Tiger Kneece.

Aiken's polo history features prominent families such as the Bostwicks, Coreys, Knoxes, Biddles and Kneeces. Tiger Kneece serves as the Aiken Polo Club's manager and his wife, Susie, is the marketing director. Their daughter, Summer, is a rising star in the sport.

The Aiken Polo Club conducts matches at Whitney Field in the spring and fall seasons.

Whitney Field came about thanks to Thomas Hitchcock and William C. Whitney, two of Aiken's most influential Winter Colonists.

Whitney bought the original polo field in the 1890s and built a racetrack around it. It was deeded to the Whitney Trust with the stipulation that it was to be used for polo.

More than a century later, Whitney Field is known for its cozy atmosphere and lively social scene on Sunday afternoons in the spring and fall.

A regulation polo field is 160 yards wide and 300 yards long, but Whitney Field is about 25 feet short of regulation width. Club members and casual fans can park their cars near the boards, something that isn't typically allowed at modern facilities.

A historical marker was unveiled in October 2023 to mark the spot where polo was first played in Aiken.

"During all the years since this field was founded, we've had two world wars, we've had a Great Depression, and we've had tremendous cultural and economic change, not only in this country, but also in our community. And yet, polo has endured in Aiken County for over 100 years," Aiken County Council Chairman Gary Bunker said. "May it continue to endure for another 100 years."