Will hordes of hoi polloi head out to the Hamptons this summer to watch a bunch of South Americans prance around on a polo field? Not likely. But back in the ‘30s it was a real crowd pleaser. “Every weekend this summer thousands of hot-dog munching spectators have crowded the polo centers of Long Island,” LIFE noted in 1938. “They paid 50¢ each to see socialites, expensive horses, rough-riding action. But mostly they paid to see Tommy Hitchcock, the world’s greatest polo player.”
The fact that he was unabashedly patrician did not stop Hitchcock from becoming a national hero. Under his leadership the U.S. hadn’t lost an international polo match to England since 1921, when Winston Churchill and King George V watched him trounce the Brits on their home turf. He was a born horseman, but his success on the field had more to do with bringing an American aggressiveness to what had always been a gentleman’s game. 45,000 hot dog munchers turned out to watch the opening day of the 1930 Westchester Cup. Fewer than 3,000 were at the Hamptons Cup final last summer.