Black Hills Polo Club saved the best until last. After a four-year losing streak, it prevailed 8-6 over Hill City’s Rushmore Polo Club in the 25th Annual Picnic & Polo Club match at Newton Fork Ranch.
Sunday, August 30th’s high goal game began with Rushmore seizing a strong lead with captain Tim Gregson posting two goals. It was soon answered by Black Hill’s veteran player Kurt Ketelsen weaving through Hill City’s defense for a shot on goal for a 2-1 score. Gregson responded with another goal that ended the 7 ½-minute chukker, 3-1, in Rushmore’s favor.
The second chukker began looking as if Rushmore Polo & Social Club would handily cinch a fifth straight title after Tim Gregson scored a quick fourth goal. But Ketelsen prevailed and answered the challenge with two goals in quick succession and the first half ended with a much closer 4-3 with Hill City still in the lead.
With riders and horses seeking shade to cool down in the steamy 90+-degree weather, the 150 or so fans took to the field for the traditional “divot stomp” generously hosted by Dan and Mary McNamara of the Harney Peak Inn. With champagne in hand, the crowd went in search of turf that needed replacing. The field was quickly repaired and the socializing commenced in earnest.
Following the divot stomp was the fourth annual “Arleen Lippman Hat Contest.” Mrs. Lippman, former owner of “A&H Grocery” on Hill City’s Main Street, was well known for her fondness for hats. Having owned more than 100, she was rarely sighted without one. Spectators were encouraged to flex their creativity and contestants stepped forward to vie for Sunday’s trophy. As Newton Fork Ranch owner and game day announcer Linda Flounders held a polo mallet aloft behind each competitor, the crowd voiced its approval with applause. In a very close decision, it looked as though local favorite Anne French, last year’s winner may take the title again but she was edged out by visiting Caroline Kelner of La Jolla, CA with a silver cowboy hat decorated in a 25th Anniversary theme.
The third chukker got off to a quick start with Kurt Ketelsen driving a goal for Rapid City to tie the game 4-4. Inspired by his team’s show of force, Duane Lammers racked up another two goals to move Black Hills Polo into the lead, 6-4. This turn-of-events drove Rushmore’s Boe Gregson, Tim’s nephew, into action with a driving goal of his own to end the third chukker, 6-5. After every chukker and goal the ball is thrown in, which kept ball persons Richard Flounders, and Wyatt and Riley Gylten hopping.
The fourth chukker began with fans, and score-keeper Laurie Flounders, on the edge of their seats. It was proving to be one of the most exciting and high-scoring games in years. Ketelsen, a third-generation polo player, came on strong posting yet another goal as Black Hills continued to pull ahead. Not to be deterred, crowd favorite Dan Gylten, sent a strong shot up field to Boe Gregson who piled on another point for Hill City. At 7-6, it was anyone’s guess who would secure the win. That was soon answered by veteran polo player Rich Jensen, who replaced alternate player Susie Lammers, mid-chukker, after an unexpected tumble. He scrambled his way through several Rushmore defensive players to secure the 8-6 win for Rapid City’s Black Hills Polo Club.
Afterwards, fans gathered to enjoy a picnic with lots of delicious food provided by Moni Matush and Wally Matush of the Alpine Inn, former poloist Kitty Pitts, Newton Fork Ranch, and the many guests. The celebrants enjoyed visiting with one another, and relishing the burgers and hot dogs seasoned and served up by the culinary talents of award-winning Grill Chef Bob Stanfiel. It was a bittersweet conclusion to the season as this was the 25th Anniversary and final polo game at Newton Fork Ranch. “It is getting harder each year to gather all the players up and we all agreed that it seemed apropos to end on a high note” commented ranch owner Linda Flounders. Her thought was followed by Chuck Fritzel who said, “Yes, but it will leave a awfully big hole in next year’s social calendar!”