THE PATRON SAINT OF POLO
Paul Butler was born in Chicago, Illinois on June 23, 1892. Paul attended the University of Illinois from 1910 to 1911 where he studied agriculture. He also served as a Lieutenant in the 106th Calvary during the First World War, and later Captain, a.k.a., Black Horse Troop.
Paul’s grandfather and great uncle, Julius Wales Butler and Oliver Morris Butler, founded the J.W. Butler Paper Company in the early 1800’s and Butler Company was incorporated in 1844, just 7 years after the city of Chicago. The Company moved from its original location in St. Charles, Illinois to Monroe Street in downtown Chicago. At the time, it was the oldest family-owned business in the city. It burned in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the first of two fires after both of which the family rebuilt. Paul served as the President of the Butler Paper Company, from 1930 to 1965, and grew it to become the largest paper merchant in the world at that time. By then, the Company was known as the Butler Company, and included diverse business interests.
Paul founded Butler Aviation in 1948, the first aviation company to service private planes, and later it became largest private aviation company in the United States. After selling Butler Paper Company to Nekoosa Edwards, he served as Director of the Nekoosa-Edwards Paper Company from 1960 to 1965. He was a co-founder of the Bank of Oak Brook and the Oak Brook Utility Company, and organized Oak Brook Venture, a development company, which included Oak Brook Farm group.
Paul founded Oak Brook, Illinois, a residential suburb of Chicago incorporated in 1958. The holdings, much of which originally belonged to his father and uncle’s dairy farm, included over 3,600 acres of land on which Paul created residential subdivisions and the country’s first outdoor shopping center, extensive polo grounds, three golf courses and wide expanses of land for hunting fields. He donated the land for Christ Church of Oak Brook, as well as a large tract of forest preserve, which adjoins Fuller Woods to the south in Hinsdale. He also built the second Butler School, on York Road, his father and uncle having built and donated the first Butler School, which is now the Oak Brook Historical Society on Spring Road and 31st St.
Perhaps most notably, Paul founded the Butler National Golf Club in 1972, which was home to the PGA Tour’s Western Open from 1974 – 1990. In May 2007, Golf Digest rated Butler National No. 21 on its list of “America’s 100 Greatest Courses.”
Additionally, he invested in number of notable and successful Broadway shows including HAIR, Kismet, Peter Pan and The Music Man.
OAK BROOK POLO CLUB
Paul’s primary and enduring passion was horsemanship. In 1921, Paul and his father, Frank Osgood Butler, planted the first polo field and brought polo to Oak Brook from Hot Springs, South Dakota, where the elder Butler had a polo field in center field of the Hot Springs Race Track, which he owned. Frank was breeding thoroughbreds on his ranches there, from which he had supplied horses to the US Army during WWI, and he thus had a good breeding stock for the polo ponies which he continued to breed for many years.
In 1922, they created the Oak Brook Polo Club. The Club was chartered on October 31, 1924, affiliating itself with the United States Polo Association (USPA) two months later. Paul’s in-laws, Frank and Marjorie Stresenreuter, soon thereafter built the Oak Brook Polo Club, which later became the clubhouse for the Butler National Golf Course.
Standing on the International Field at Meadowbrook Polo before the start of the 1927 Westchester Cup, an international series between the United States and Great Britain, Paul prophesied, “Someday all of this will be gone and the center of polo will be Oak Brook.” Paul’s prophecy came true in 1953 after the Open Championship was played in Meadowbrook. Meadowbrook was sold to developers, and the USPA came to Paul to ask him to take on the Open. The next year the Open moved to Oak Brook where, with the exception of two years when it was held in California, the Open was played until 1979—the longest consecutive time the Open has been played at one location, twenty-four years. Oak Brook was also home to the USPA headquarters from 1954 to 1986 and hosted a great number of club and national events, including the Butler Handicap from 1954 to 1978. In 1977, 19 teams competed in the President’s Cup while 13 teams vied for the Open, both held at Oak Brook.
By 1956, Oak Brook Polo Club had 13 polo fields and stabling for 400 horses (the first field, the 14th, had become the Oak Brook Horseshow grounds), with games played six days a week during the season. The Club also included grandstands, bleachers and box seats, a clubhouse and 36 miles of tree-lined trails. Paul joined four polo fields so they could be used as East-West and North-South airstrips for the family and incoming guests. Those guests included royalty, dignitaries and celebrities. Over the years, HRH the Prince of Wales Prince Edward, HRH the Prince of Wales Prince Charles, Lord Cowdray, Major Ronald Ferguson, Lord Patrick Beresford, Lord Tyrone Waterford, King Hussein, The Maharaja and Maharani of Jaipur, Audrey Hepburn, Vivien Leigh and others visited the club. Paul also initiated and hosted a long-list of international polo matches that drew legendary players from around the world to play at Oak Brook. The Oak Brook team also traveled far and wide to support other clubs, and Oak Brook hosted international teams from Argentina, Mexico, England, Italy, India, Jamaica, Ireland, Canada and Germany.
Polo provided the Village of Oak Brook a lifestyle appeal—a social sporting scene, attracting people. It helped lay claim that Polo created Oak Brook. The Oak Brook Polo Club was the largest polo plant in the world from 1954 to 1979 and would be billed the “Polo Capital of the United States,” or “Polo Town.” Paul notably gave William T. Ylvisaker his start in polo, allowing Bill to play without paying grounds fees until such time as he could afford it. Bill later went on to found Palm Beach Polo and Country Club in Wellington, Florida, now the home of much winter polo in the US as well as dressage and jumper horseshows.
Paul had as his pro polo player, the legendary Cecil Smith, the quiet Texan who was rated at 10 goals, the highest rating a player can achieve in the sport, for 25 years, a record still unmatched today. Paul’s Oak Brook team won many club and USPA tournaments, including six U.S. Open Polo Championships (1960, ‘64, ‘65, ‘67, ‘71 and ‘73), lost the championship match in 1970, four Butler Handicap titles (1958, ‘59, ‘72 and ‘73), six USPA Gold Cup titles (1963, ‘64, ‘65, ‘68, ‘69 and ‘70), one Monty Waterbury (1951). Paul’s son, Michael Butler, won three (3) Butler Handicaps (1979, ‘86 and ‘87). Paul’s daughter, Jorie, was co-patron and coach of the Rolex Abercrombie & Kent Teams, which won two U.S. Open titles (1978 and 1981), three (3) Butler Handicaps (1983, ‘84 and ‘95), one (1) USPA Gold Cup (1978). In the UK, HRH The Prince of Wales Prince Charles, played #4 on the team, which won the Rolex Challenge Cup in 1988.
Oak Brook Polo Club is the fourth oldest Chicago sports property still in operation today (Chicago Cubs 1870, Chicago White Sox 1900, Chicago Bears 1919).
BEYOND OAK BROOK POLO
Paul’s contribution to the sport of polo goes beyond the Oak Brook Polo Club. As a cavalry officer in World War I, Paul understood and appreciated the ties between polo and the military. Since its earliest days, the military used polo for training cavalrymen and officers in the art of making successful split second decisions in battle. When the sport arrived in Chicago, the National Guard’s First Illinois Cavalry was among the first teams to play polo. The Black Horse Troop was formed in 1929 and Paul became its commander in 1931. Paul regularly fielded the Black Horse Troop at both Oak Brook Polo Club and later the Chicago Avenue Armory.
Paul was one of the founding committee members of an indoor/arena polo league at the Illinois National Guard’s Chicago Avenue Armory, now the Museum of Contemporary Art. The league, which began in 1949, continued through the mid-1980s, until in 1982, when then-Governor James Thompson suggested that the state sell the Chicago Avenue Armory.
Paul also served on the USPA Board of Governors and was a member of the Meadowbrook Polo Club, one of America’s founding USPA polo clubs and oldest polo club in the United States, established in 1881. On March 3, 1995, Paul was inducted into the Museum of Polo Hall of Fame.
QUOTES ABOUT PAUL BUTLER
In a 1962 Sports Illustrated article, writer William Barry Furlong wrote, “Paul is a shy, rich, abundantly self-contained individual who at the age of 72 flies jet planes, backs Broadway musicals and is possessed by the most eclectic compulsion in sports: he collects polo fields. At last count, he had 14 of them – each about as large as nine football fields – on his estate in Oak Brook, Illinois.”
One of Butler’s friends told Furlong, “The thing about this guy is that he’s nuts for anything you can do–not watch.” Butler made sure that can-do events were hosted in Oak Brook, including the U.S. Open Polo Championship, the PGA Tour’s Western Open, the title matches of the National Archery Association and the Oak Brook Hounds Horse Show, among a host of other events.
In a 1962 ceremony honoring Paul Butler, William Ylvisaker (USPA chairman from 1970 to 1975) said, “With a dedicated, yet humble, approach, he [Butler] made Oak Brook the center of polo in our country. Eleven polo fields, stables for 450 horses, a magnificent clubhouse, plus many other facilities exemplify the magnitude of the plant. In addition, the Butler Handicap tournament has become a major and sought after trophy in the polo world. All this stemming from Paul Butler who served as a governor of our Association since 1941.” Ylvisaker would go one to say: “We have neither the time nor would these be adequate words to pay full tribute to Paul Butler for his contribution to polo...”
The Museum of Polo immortalized Paul saying, “if polo was ever in need of an angel, it was the time when Paul Butler gave a beleaguered postwar sport a lavish new center and home for the U.S. Open Polo Championship. Generously, with flair and vision, he nurtured a recovering sport until others could carry the torch.”