By Alejandra Ocampo.
Special thanks to Santiago Bachmann.
Back in the 80s, in the XIX Century, many inmigrants arrived in Argentina. English, Irish and Scottish were among them. Many settled in the countryside, which was inhabited by natives and gauchos; a contryside that the European changed, by building houses, planting tres, seeding and bringing herd. One of the spots chosen by the English was a city located in the Departamento de General López, in the southeast of the Province of Buenos Aires. A pioneer named Eduardo Casey, an Argentinian of Irish desendant, arrived to the place, and he found a pond called Venado Tuerto (NR: One-Eye Deer). Casey, surprised by such a name, he asked where it did come from. According to many historians, a little deer used to walk around to pasture. The little deer had one main feature – it was one-eyed because it has been hurt in the frequently brutal attacks by the natives. Those attacks were called “malones” , in Spanish.
So, it is said that this little deer searched for shelter every time a pack (or “malones”) of natives approached, to give time to the soldiers to prepare to defend themselves. The little deer, led the troops through spots with good pasture and water, something that earned the deer the recongnition of the soldiers. As soon as he knew the story, Casey, decided to maintain the pond’s name and on April 26 1884, he founded a village under the name of Venado Tuerto, to honour the little deer; the village was given city status on December 16 1935, and it was also known as the Emerald of the South, due to the richness of its crops. Casey was a very generous man, who contributed with the inhabitants and the development of their activities.
By 1880, Federico Bridger was commissioned by the government to improve Venado Tuerto’s lands. According to Bridger, the first thing he spotted was a string of white, wild mares as well as many guanacos, in a time when there were no perimeter fences; this allowed different livestock to mix with each other. By those days, many parties were held, that included asados, dancing and races. And the horses were deeply loved by the inhabitants, as they were the only means of transport, so they decided to practice equestrian sports. Polo, among others.
Slowly, more people arrived in the village to play polo, and the idea to establish a club emerged; but it wouldn’t be a club to play only polo, but also a place to meet with friends. Before setting the club, the brave horse riders used to play polo in the village’s square as well an in the estancias and farms. Finally, a venue was bought, and Venado Tuerto Polo & Athletic Club was founded on June 16 1888 by Frederick Bridger, Frank and Chamberlain Hinchcliff, Baron Gaston Peers, George O’Donnell, Johnny Smythe, Diego Tetley and the Thompson brothers. In addition, the club was one of the founding members of the Argentine Association of Polo.
Media Luna (1903 and 1907) is among the first tournaments Venado Tuerto won. They claimed the Hurlingham Open in 1920, in the years that polo was dominated by North Santa Fe, the histrical team led by the Traill brothers, from Estancia Las Rosas.
Following the successful tour in 1922, when Argentina claimed the British Open and the US Open, a remarkable achievement that put Argentina as the third most powerful country within the sport, in 1924 the Argentine national team went to Paris to participate in the Olympic Games. The team was made of Arturo Kenny, Juan Nelson, Enrique Padilla and Juan Miles, and they earned the first ever Gold Olympic Medal for Argentina, after defeating no less than England and United States. Arturo Kenny was a member of Venado Tuerto Polo & Athletic Club.
But the glory, golden days for Venado Tuerto were about to come through 1944 and 1950 (with the exception of 1945, when the Argentine Open was not played due to the Second World War). In those years, Venado Tuerto presented a memorable foursome, composed of cousins Juan and Roberto Cavanagh and brothers Enrique and Juan José Alberdi. Venado Tuerto went head-to-head against their biggest contenders, El Trébol, known as the first derby of polo, in those unforgettable clashes that were watched from the full packed grandsstands at Palermo. Together, they won the Argentine Open seven times and the Hurlingham Open nine times; after a break between 1951 and 1954, Venado Tuerto were back to claim the world’s most important tournament, in 1955.
One of the members of Venado Tuerto, Roberto Cavanagh, was an Olympic winner; at 21, he was the youngest player of the Argentine lineup who defeated England 11-0 to secure the second Gold Olympic medal for the country, in the Olympic Games in Berlin, in 1936. Today, this remarkable achievement is remembered at Palermo, where the Olympic Oak is settled together with a plaque that bears the names of the four heroes of Berlin: Manuel “Paisano” Andrada, Roberto Cavanagh, Luis Duggan and Andrés Gazzoti. Juan Nelson, the Olympic winner in 1924, was a part of the delegation, but as a substitute.
The most important tournament that is played at Venado Tuerto Polo & Athletic Club is the Balfour Cup. The trophy was donated in 1924 by George Balfour, a true gentleman and very fond of polo and horse racing. The Tomás Kenny Cup is the handicap competition, and the trophy was presented by Dr. Tomás Kenny, former polo player and President of the Club as well as President of the Sociedad Rural de Venado Tuerto, a man who delivered his efforts and dedication to improve the sports activities of the club.
Let’s go back to 1888, when the first horse races and jumping shows took place in the club. The jockeys rode polo horses, that were not prepared at all. The grandsstands were the carriages and cars, and every event was full of people, who didn’t want to miss a detail. Those were the days when the club was not only a sports center, but also an ideal place to have fun with family and friends; several parties were hosted – following a polo match or a horse race, polo players and jockeys met to celebrate until sunrise. By the 1930s, a new sport arrived to Venado Tuerto – the much British cricket.
Children have their place in Venado Tuerto Polo & Athletic Club, as well. The GYMKHANAS, established in 1919, is a party for the little ones, and features horse racing, foot races, chair games, among other activities. The culminating moment is the much awaited and delicious tea time with cake, prepared by the ladies of the club. Another tournament for the kids is the Posta Cup, donated by Guillermo Bachmann, and the most recent additions are the Oso and Federico Rooney Cup, as a tribute to two of the club’s most representative members.
135 years after its foundation, Venado Tuerto Polo & Athletic Club continues with several activities as well as improving its facilities, still as one of the most important polo institutions not only in Argentina, but also worldwide; a place with a rich history, open to all who want to enjoy polo as well as many activities, in a warm, friendly entourage, with family and friends. And of course, the club is ready to celebrate the milestone, with a big party, due on October 21. But let’s the club’s Vice President, Santiago Bachmann, do the talking:
“This is a very important milestone for us. Venado Tuerto is the oldest polo club in South America, with a rich history that includes participation in the Olympic Games. It is a founding member of the Argentine Association of Polo as well; a club that forms part of the world’s best polo and a formative institution for young players who are already renowned, names like Ferrari, Aramburu, Beguerie, Cavanagh, Rooney, Pioltino, Redlich and many others. I don’t want to forget anyone, but as a whole, there are several young kids who are already playing on an international level and they are doing very well.
We are very proud; the club is an historical patrimony of the city and will be a museum of the city soon, because it reflects all the history of polo in Argentina. And on October 21, we plan a day full of activities, such as polo, golf, tennis, shooping; it will be open to the families, the city, the whole country. Everybody who want to come will be welcome, they are all invited. We are very happy and full of enthusiasm. Besides, the club have improved a lot in the latest years. We’re open to all those who want to come and play polo, golf, use the facilities. We live this club as if it is our house backyard, where we spent most of our childhood, and we we want to make a huge celebration of this number, 135, which is very important to all of us”.