The name Biddle has been synonymous with the sport of polo in Aiken for more than four decades, and now a third generation of the family is beginning to leave their imprint on the sport.
However, the impact of the Biddles on the sport has spanned the globe as their influence continues to make a difference. Tom Biddle, Sr. had been involved with the sport in a number of capacities as a player, in several positions as a United States Polo Association officer, on various committees, and as the patriarch of the famous polo playing family; Tommy Biddle, Jr., as one of the sport’s best players, having earned the distinction of being only one of four players in history to achieve a 10-goal indoor rating, and Bradley Biddle, first as a player and now as an official, where he is distinguishing himself as an umpire.
But, how does a family share, grow and sustain a passion for something and excel for an extended period of time at the highest level?
A strong role model, who infused enthusiasm, discipline, desire and a will to win, would help shape the lives of Tommy and Bradley Biddle. Tom Biddle, Sr. relocated to Aiken from Charlotte, N.C. in 1969 after deciding the historic polo Mecca was the place to raise his family.
Polo would become an integral part of the Biddle brothers’ lives, with Tommy Jr. being the older of the two siblings.
“Growing up, it wasn’t a choice of playing polo and being around the horses, we had to do it,” said Bradley. “We spent a lot of weekends in the truck and trailer, going to Atlanta, Columbia, Camden and the northeast during the summer. It really was a lot of fun to travel.”
And as the younger Biddles evolved as athletes and horsemen, their presence on the polo field and opportunities to play at a higher level increased. Tom Biddle, Sr. would get the opportunity to play with his sons, Tommy, Jr. at the 20-goal level, and at the 12-goal with Tommy Jr. and Bradley. The family that played together enjoyed their share of success.
“1986 was a special year, “ said Tom Biddle, Sr. “Tommy and I won three national tournaments in three weeks, the Chairman’s Cup, Silver Cup and Copper Cup. In 1987, I won the President’s Cup with both boys.”
Tom Biddle, Sr. has been an outstanding motivator, compelling his sons to strive for success and to reach for their goals.
“My dad drove us,” said Tommy, Jr. “I know where I am today in polo is because of him. It was a little bit tougher on Bradley because I was the older brother. Dad was tough on me. He drove us to do well and win.”
But, it was that strong foundation, those early lessons that helped shape the Biddle brothers as polo players, athletes and as men.
“I feel very blessed and fortunate to be able to play polo, to do something I’m passionate about, with horses, and to make a living at it,” said Tommy Jr. “I’m very proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish.”
Tommy has excelled as a professional, reaching the elite level of the sport, having been rated as high as 8-goals outdoors. But, it is in the arena that he has added to an already impressive resume as one of the sport’s best as he joined Winston Guest, Clarence “Buddy” Combs and Joe Henderson as being only one of four players to achieve a 10-goal indoor handicap. The 1988 Polo Excellence Young Player Award winner, Tommy Jr. was part of the Coca-Cola roster that won the 2002 U.S. Open.
“Tommy has had an amazing career,” said Tom Sr. “His size has always been a challenge for us to find the proper horses with strength and stamina to allow him to compete at the top level against the majority of players whom are much smaller in stature.”
The younger of the Biddle brothers has carved out his own niche in the sport, and is continuing to evolve as a United States Polo Association official.
“Bradley recently decided to change his career path, and the USPA made it possible for him to be employed full-time with future opportunities in training and management,” said Tom Sr. “In these uncertain economic times, it’s rewarding that our sport is sustaining their livelihood.”
A commitment to excellence and a disciplined approach, served as motivators in helping the Biddles reach their potential. Although admittedly at times, it could be challenging, but the time together was also very rewarding.
Bradley, the younger of the two Biddle brothers acknowledged it was a lot of fun, but at times was very hard, growing up in a family with two incredibly motivated individuals.
“They are both competitors, and they demanded that I get better all the time,” said Bradley. “We are a very vocal group. But, I can remember when we won an 8-goal tournament in New York, all three of us playing together, and that might be the single favorite polo moment in my career.”
Aiken provided the perfect opportunity for the Biddle brothers as they evolved from their nascent stages as players to compete at the higher levels of the sport.
“It was a new time during the early 80s, when dad and Mr. (David) Widener started a lot of local people,” said Tommy Jr. “I was proud to be a part of it, and it gave younger guys like myself and Tiger (Kneece) an opportunity to play. I’m proud to see how Aiken has evolved and grown into the polo center it has become.”
Bradley began playing the sport when he was seven years old, and played in his first match at the age of 12.
“The polo resources really came from my dad, opportunties and horses,” said Bradley. “Tommy and I would do the majority of the work at the barn when dad was working. We’d practice at the club twice a week, and then match games on Sundays.”
Each of the Biddles derives great satisfaction from their sport, their involvement in polo, and having the opportunity to play as a family.
Tom Biddle, Sr. served as the USPA chairman and president, and played an integral role in the sport’s development while serving in those capacities, which included revitalizing international competition, the Westchester and Camacho Cups; the founding of the Team USPA program; growing and improving professional umpiring by establishing USPA Professional Umpires, LLC and serving on the Polo Properties board.
The elder Biddle was also instrumental in having polo replace Standardbred racing as the third jewel of the Aiken Triple Crown.
“I came up with the idea to add polo when the Trotting Track dropped out of the event,” said Tom Sr. “Polo probably should have been part of the event in the first place because of it’s long history in Aiken.”
The most enjoyable part of Bradley’s job as an official is having the opportunity to serve other umpires.
“I want this program to expand, and I like going around the country and helping others get involved and teaching them the tricks of the trade,” said Bradley. “We don’t give certifications away, so to be able to work with prospective umpires is very gratifying. The most challenging aspect is consistency. When you umpire at many different levels, indoor and outdoor, you have to call the game differently based on the level you are umpiring. The best umpires can make that transition, and that is one of my ultimate goals.”
The level of umpiring has changed and improved since Bradley last played, he said.
“It’s much more professional now than ever,” said Bradley. “But, playing, watching every level of polo my whole life, made the transition into umpiring that much easier. I know the game, but there is an art to umpiring, making calls is just one part of it. It’s also about knowing how to handle players, being in postion, and being 100 percent correct with procedure, and those are just as important.”
Tommy Jr. is very appreciative of the support he’s had from his family, his parents, brother, wife and daughters.
“We do a lot of traveling, and I’m on the road, and my wife has been stuck with the girls,” said Tommy Jr. “It’s tough at times.”
But, Tommy Jr.’s success on the polo field has been very rewarding, having reached a number of milestones during his career.
“For me, my greatest highlights have been winning the Aiken Cup with my father back in 1985, the U.S. Open in 2002, and the 22-goal Triple Crown of Polo in Aiken, a tournament I won while playing on the same team with my wife (Yvette),” said Tommy Jr. “I don’t know of any husband and wife who’ve ever won a 22-goal tournament together. It’s pretty amazing.”
A third generation of Biddle is now in the process of distinguishing herself on the polo field, Tommy’s oldest daughter Lauren. The father and daughter won an 8-goal tournament as part of the same roster, and the proud dad has been thrilled with his daughter’s progress as a player. Lauren Biddle has had the opportunity to play in Jamaica, Canada and China, all before her 17th birthday.
“There haven’t been too many professional playing women,” said Tommy Jr. “She’s young enough and has the ability to be one of the best women’s players in the world. I’m not saying that is what she wants to do, but if she decides to go that route, I will support her.”