LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Tom Hughes brings a half century of polo experience as a manager and player to his new job as director of polo operations for the Sarasota Polo Club at Lakewood Ranch.
In a phone interview Thursday from Palm Beach County, Hughes said he plans to promote more play between the Sarasota Polo Club and other clubs around the state.
In addition, he plans to expand the local program and attract more families and players to the sport.
"We will expand arena polo. That's where most players start with an inflated ball," he said. "Sarasota Polo Club has one of the better facilities in the country. It's got everything that you need."
Hughes was associated with the highly regarded Wellington polo program from its start in the late 1970s.
A native of Simi Valley, Calif., Hughes, now 76, started playing polo in 1964. He got involved with polo management at the Oak Brook Polo Club in the Chicago area in the 1960s and 1970s.
"It was the biggest club in the United States at the time," he said.
He has known James and Robin Uihlein since they were children, and was friends with their father, Robert Uihlein. Robert Uihlein captained the Milwaukee Polo Club.
The Uihlein family, owners of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Inc., brought polo to Lakewood Ranch.
"I got a call from Rex Jensen about a month ago asking me to come over for an interview," Hughes said.
Jensen, SMR president and CEO, announced the appointment this week in a press release.
Hughes' experience in managing polo clubs includes the Oak Brook, Glendale and Naperville polo clubs in Illinois, the Milwaukee Polo Club and the Greenwich Polo Club in Connecticut.
"We are extremely excited to have Tom joining our team," Jensen said in the press release. "His vast and varied experience in all aspects of the game, and his ability to attract new players, will help to elevate the Sarasota Polo Club to be one of the best in the country -- even better than it is now."
Jaymie Klauber, a Lakewood Ranch resident who has been playing polo for 12 years, was enthusiastic about prospects for improving and expanding the local program.
"We have a great club, no matter what. It's a fantastic opportunity to get someone so nationally respected for our club," Klauber said.
Hughes' arrival represents a new era for polo at Lakewood Ranch, she said.
"It helps to have polo accessible to people of all income levels. The more vibrant and diverse our membership is the better," Klauber said.
Hughes has served on the Rules, Handicap and Umpire committees of the U.S. Polo Association and has umpired all major high goal tournaments in the United States and Great Britain. Hughes will continue to manage the USPA Professional Umpire Program through July.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.