Entering the 1-mile road that leads to the Port Mayaca Polo Club in Okeechobee, visitors experience the unique realization that they are entering a place like no other. The road branches off SW Conners Highway, along the shores of Lake Okeechobee, and winds east past a stone entryway along acres of picket- fenced pastures. Groups of majestic equines in various hues race along the fence that borders the pavement, putting gas-driven horsepower to shame. The road leads to a gentle incline overlooking lush green fields, where these ponies and their riders compete in a sport older than recorded history.
Few people even know this place exists—and that’s exactly how the Port Mayaca Polo Club likes it.
Since it hosted its first polo season in 2007, Port Mayaca Polo Club has been one of the best-kept secrets in the area. Each season, spectators flock to popular polo destinations like Wellington, while Port Mayaca’s polo scene is largely unknown to the public. For players, though, the club is as close to heaven as riders and their ponies can get.
Port Mayaca Polo Club was founded by Steven Orthwein Sr., an avid polo player and former chairman of the United States Polo Association (USPA). Orthwein’s vision was to find a place where the land had not been overbuilt, where polo families and their ponies could enjoy wide open spaces and naturally sandy soil, and where he could create a community of polo players. In 2006, he purchased 600 acres of sugarcane land owned by the Camayen Cattle Co. and developed Port Mayaca Polo Club.
“Dad was the enthusiast of polo enthusiasts,” says 41-year-old Steve Orthwein Jr. of his father, who passed away in 2018. Orthwein now operates the club on behalf of his family. “Back then, Dad would be out here with no electricity just to be here,” he says. “This was a labor of love for him.”
Much has changed since then. Today, Orthwein oversees eight polo fields, a stick-and-ball field, two tracks, a schooling field, and miles of trails and bridle paths on 600 acres. Like his father, Orthwein is an avid polo player himself. “My grandfather had five sons, and they all played polo so I was always around it,” he says. “Once I started playing, I was hooked.” When asked what he feels makes the sport so unique, he speaks enthusiastically about his love of the game: “There is this connection with you and your horse. It’s very fast-paced and requires strategy and teamwork—it’s a sport that’s very rewarding.”
Orthwein delights in playing polo as often as he can. And these days, he gets to share that passion with the 14 families to whom he has sold farm parcels at the Port Mayaca Polo Club. Typically consisting of 20 or more acres with spacious barns, tracks, paddocks, and staff housing, the farms at the club are owned by families from all over the world. “Families often base in Port Mayaca and ship into Wellington to compete during the season,” says Orthwein. “We are connected to Wellington without being in Wellington.”
A few of the players who own farms at the club include: Pite Merlos, Facha (Martin) Valent; Bo and Hutton Goodman; Steve and KC Krueger; the Magrini family; Gonzalito, Facundo, and Nico Pieres; Phillip Higgins; and Annabelle Gundlach. Over at Lot 7, the well-known Dutta family just completed their farm—which includes about 21 acres, a 28-stall center aisle barn, a track, a riding field, a paddock, and staff housing—in December. The Duttas are highly respected in equestrian circles. Both father and son, Tim Dutta Sr. and Timmy Dutta Jr., play polo; wife/mother Susie is an acclaimed international dressage competitor. The family also owns The Dutta Corporation, an international horse-transport business.
For 20-year-old Timmy, one of the most talented young players on the high-goal polo scene, being a part of the Port Mayaca Polo Club family is an exciting new phase in his career. “There is no community like Port Mayaca,” says the Wellington native. “It is the only place in the United States where you can play all year and have a facility where you can just walk to the fields.” His family, he explains, built their farm at Port Mayaca “to have a place to call home and to really be able to give my horses the best opportunity to succeed.”
Dutta first picked up a mallet at age 12 and has played at Port Mayaca since he was 14. He has racked up some impressive accolades on the field: In 2019, he won the Triple Crown of 20 goals in Wellington as part of Team Dutta Corp (which also comprised teammates Lucas Diaz Alberdi, Gringo Colombres, and Kris Kampsen). He also captained the USA Junior Team and defeated England to win the Hall of Fame Cup (a subsidiary to the U.S. Open).
He travels all over the world for the game—this past summer, he played tournaments in Argentina—but he’s happy to be back at Port Mayaca, which he views as an idyllic polo community. “Port Mayaca holds the essence of the sport,” says Dutta. “There is top-quality polo here, and you have the ability to produce top-quality horses. Horses need to relax, and they love being in horse country. Being at Port Mayaca gives me an edge.” He notes that polo is an ever-evolving game, which is an aspect that he appreciates. “The sport is constantly changing,” he says. “There are always new players and new horses. At Port Mayaca, there is constantly something going on polo-wise.”
The young player has a busy 2022 season, including playing in the Gauntlet of Polo at the International Polo Club in Wellington with team Dutta Corp. Of course, Port Mayaca is also on his schedule. The polo season at Port Mayaca kicked off January 13 and includes 13 tournaments, culminating April 1-10. All play at the club is open to the public, and admission is free. Polo enthusiasts are encouraged to back their trucks up to the field and put the tailgate down to watch. “We are very different than what people expect,” says Club Manager Laura Townsend. “We want to keep it that way.”
Once a year, the club hosts a special tournament to benefit Molly’s House, a Stuart-based charity that provides housing for patients (and their families) who are undergoing medical treatment. The Twelfth Annual Polo Classic to benefit the nonprofit is scheduled for March 5 and will feature international polo players, a dressage presentation, a VIP party, a “best hat” contest, a classic car show, and the traditional halftime Champagne divot stomp. The event usually attracts around 2,000 attendees, says Townsend, and tickets can be purchased at mollyshouse.org.
For Orthwein, the club is a fulfillment of his father’s vision. When asked about what the future will bring for Port Mayaca, he is torn between wanting to keep the club just as it is and recognizing that, like the game of polo, the community will also continue to evolve. “I see us growing at a pace that’s manageable and attainable,” he says.
“I also see us having generational players,” he adds, noting that his 5-year-old daughter Hazel is already an avid rider, taking lessons from her grandmother.
For now, Orthwein is content knowing that his father would be proud of the club and the atmosphere he has created for polo lovers: “He always said, ‘I want this to be my legacy.’ He’d be thrilled with what has happened out here.”
12499 SW Conners Hwy., Okeechobee; 772.577.9078
Upcoming Tournaments at Port Mayaca Polo Club
February: The Woodcock, 8-goal
February: USPA Heritage Cup, 14-goal
February: USPA Butler, 18-goal
March 1-6: Tabebuia Women’s Cup,
18- to 22-goal
March 5: Molly’s House Charity Benefit
March 7-19: U.S. Women’s Polo Championship, 22-goal
March: USPA President’s Cup, 8-goal
March: Live Oak Challenger, 14-goal
March: USPA Monty Waterbury, 18-goal
April 1-10: Mahogany Cup, 8-goal
April 1-10: Shady Lady, 14-goal
April 1-10: The 1909 Cup, 18-goal
*Exact dates are released after tournament draw