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"I don't know what I do, but I stay busy," Goodman told Patterson. "But don't make it like I'm real busy, OK? Because I don't want to be like I'm a big shot."
That same year, Goodman came under fire for being a less-than-responsible steward of his family's wealth. His brother, Greg, sued him in Harris County Circuit Court, trying to remove John as trustee of Greg's children's trust fund. Greg said that he and his brother had a "hostile" relationship and that John was not qualified to oversee the trust fund. "He never finished college, and pursues no serious profession," the suit alleged.
Eventually, the brothers reached a settlement, and John stepped down as trustee. Greg Goodman, who now breeds horses and owns the Mt. Brilliant polo team in Kentucky, didn't respond to requests for comment.
Meanwhile, John became chairman of his father's company and continued to pour millions into his beloved polo. He began spending more time in Wellington, which had over the years developed into an unlikely hub for the sport.
Six decades ago, Wellington — a small suburb between the Everglades and West Palm Beach — was home to the world's largest strawberry patch. Mucky swamps were drained and converted into the Flying Cow Ranch. In the late 1970s, Bill Ylvisaker, head of the electronics corporation Gould Inc. and also a skilled polo player, transformed the place into horse heaven. He built the Palm Beach Polo and Country Club — a sprawling venue with 11 polo fields, two golf courses, tennis courts, and pools — and lured the Winter Equestrian Festival to its stadium.
By the next decade, Wellington had become a winter playground for the tea-and-mimosas crowd. Prince Charles and Princess Di cheered in the Palm Beach Polo stadium. Cartier and Piaget sponsored the A-list parties, with guests like Zsa Zsa Gabor, Sylvester Stallone, and Charlton Heston. Polo was Wellington's ticket to highbrow fame.
But real estate in Florida is a fickle animal. By the early '90s, the vast Polo Club development, which by then included hundreds of homes, was bankrupt. Developer Glenn Straub bought it at a government auction, and homeowners soon began to complain.
Straub seemed more interested in his land value than in promoting the sport of polo. He cut back on staff and let the polo facilities wither. Instead of luring celebrities, he focused on the steady, mundane revenue stream of low- and medium-goal polo, show-jumping, and other equestrian events. High-level players began fleeing to other venues to host their tournaments.
"John [Goodman] saw it as a profession and entertainment," Straub says. "We see it as more of an amenity."
But such a bottom-line view of the sport didn't sit well with locals accustomed to pulling off the road to tailgate Sunday afternoon games or catch a glimpse of royalty in the stands.
"There was a danger that Wellington [polo] could have slid back or could have sort of fizzled," says Braddick.
John Goodman didn't let that happen. In 2004, his family sold Goodman Manufacturing to a buyout firm for $1.4 billion, and John devoted more time to his life in Wellington. He turned his lush backyard into a playground and a reincarnation of Ylvisaker's dream: the International Polo Club Palm Beach.
Glitterati such as Tommy Lee Jones, polo veteran Memo Gracida, and Ralph Lauren model/polo superstar Nacho Figueras graced the lavish fields. Chauffeured crowds flocked to the games to sip Moët and nibble on $100 brunches. In February 2009, Madonna showed up at an International Polo Club match and spawned rumors that she was looking to move to Wellington.
The club's facilities include four polo fields, tennis courts, a pool, a spa, and a restaurant. Those fields are now among the best polo arenas on the planet, Braddick says, and the club has the honor of hosting the U.S. Open Polo Championship. The Manolo Blahnik set pays about $25,000 — by invitation only — for yearly membership to the club. Games are open to the general admission masses at $15 a pop.
Meanwhile, Wellington's acres of unnatural velvet grass have become the village's signature attraction. Gated communities with names like Equestrian Club and Versailles rest sedately off the main roads. Turn down a quiet corner and you'll be surrounded by millionaires' estates.
Tall, meticulously trimmed hedges and iron-spiked gates shield these plantation-style ranches from inquiring eyes. Beaming coats of arms — an owl, crossed polo sticks — mark the entrance to each team's territory.
Polo, with its international tournaments, lavishly catered parties, and reliance on pricey horse care and breeding, has become an economic engine that powers Wellington. Locals heap much of the credit on Goodman. "What he's done is really remarkable," Braddick says. "To have kept polo here and to have expanded it — this has become a true global center of polo."
He moved to Wellington in eighth grade, with his parents and a younger sister who adored him. By Wellington standards, the family was far from wealthy, but Wilson grew up in a sprawling house on 2.5 acres, with a circular driveway, Greek columns, and double front doors decorated with gold Chinese symbols. Twenty years ago, his parents paid $70,000 for this property in sleepy Wellington; it's now worth ten times that amount.