In The Magazine

Let the Games Begin!

Monday, August 3, 2015

The pop of a champagne cork, the thundering of hooves and the flurry of socialization are sounds that punctuate the air at every polo match, a sport that’s equal parts intense—and often dangerous—competition and elite social gathering. For more than 2,000 years, polo has permeated the cultural fabrics of nations on nearly every continent on earth, capturing the attention of massive audiences even in its most primitive form.

Like everything else in the sporting world, polo is racing toward change at a breakneck speed, particularly when it comes to inclusion. No longer reserved only for the world’s most powerful men, the sport is spreading in popularity due in large part to its growing presence on college campuses across the country. Perhaps most notable however, is the ingress of women into the wide world of polo. Ladies leagues and full-blown integration into tournaments are now the norm, making the “sport of kings” now suitable for queens as well. And while the sport is good clean fun, there’s been a steady increase of youths enrolling at clubs for the opportunity it provides—particularly when it comes time for ever-competitive college applications. Luis Rinaldini, former President of the Meadowbrook Polo Club, says a great way for parents to get their girls preferential treatment for college admissions is to put a polo mallet in their hands. “By college,” Rinaldini  says, “they will be in high demand because of the powerful effect of Title IX,” the piece of legislation affording women athletes the same opportunities as their male counterparts.

New York’s position in the world of polo is a unique one, with a few of the more highly regarded matches migrating to the city every summer, while a cluster of popular clubs sit out East in the Hamptons. Though one of the city’s favorite Long Island spots, the Bridgehampton Polo Club, is closing, New York polo fans are not without alternatives. While some elite tournaments and clubs are still no more than a Jitney ride away, out-of-state and across-the-pond polo events draw glittering crowds of civilians, socialites and royalty—both of the Hollywood and actual variety—making the trip to see a match a luxurious and exciting vacation opportunity. Here, we explore some of the world’s most respected tournaments, clubs, and competitions.


The Dominican Republic is famous for producing some of the top players worldwide, but it is the Casa de Campo polo facility that earns the DR its reputation as a polo powerhouse. Between its star-studded exhibition tournaments and the bright green landscape of leafy Dominican palm trees, the facility is a major attraction for international guests to immerse themselves in the world of polo. Owned by titan of industry Pepe Fanjul, the facility is five-star in every respect. As much of a luxury resort as it is a premier polo destination, the facility gives lessons and rides to guests, who often stick around to catch a glimpse of the true power players in action. Most recently, a friendly exhibition turned into a major media event when polo poster boy turned Ralph Lauren model Nacho Figueras arrived to dominate the playing field—and the after-party.


Regarded as one of the most premier tournaments in the world, the annual Cartier Queen’s Cup is a three-week whirlwind of celebrity sightings, five-star dining, intense competition and, of course, elegant pageantry for which the Brits are known. The high-goal tournament is exactly what one would expect from Cartier, which has sponsored the event for the past 30 years, with even the horse’s saddle pads emblazoned with the brand’s signature loping script. The tournament is presented by Guards Polo Club, itself an institution and a pillar of classic United Kingdom polo. Prince Philip sits at the organization’s helm as the club president, truly cementing polo’s reputation as the sport of kings. The high-goal tournament’s final matches are presided over by its namesake, Queen Elizabeth herself, who traditionally presents the top award personally to the winning team. This year, the Kings Power Foxes stampeded to victory, beating out 12 other teams during the three-week tournament while spectators—including Emily Mortimer, Dame Joan Collins, Jerry Hall and Jodie Kidd—looked on from the white tents.


Arguably the biggest polo match in New York, this classic competition draws Manhattan’s elite to Liberty State Park at the end of spring for a sunny day filled with competition, celebrity sightings and, most important, champagne. This year’s event was filled with the usual assortment of socialites, heiresses, silver screen queens and business titans, including Diane Kruger, Mindy Kaling, Joan SmallsIndre Rockefeller, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Andrew Rannells, who serenaded the pastel-clad crowd with a Broadway-perfect of the national anthem. Of course, polo impresario Nacho Figueras made an appearance, looking debonair as always in a summer suit. The biggest draw of the Classic is, undoubtedly, the Rose Garden, where ticket-holding guests enjoyed free-flowing champagne as they surveyed the scene—and the game’s best outfits.


The town of Greenwich, Connecticut, already has a reputation for being a bastion of high society, and its eponymous polo club is no exception. More than 2,000 spectators flock to the 300-yard field every Sunday at the club, which was established by Peter Brant, illustrious businessman and avid polo player responsible for bringing the area’s polo scene the respect and attention it enjoys today. Brant’s notoriety also stems from the founding of the White Birch team, which has more wins than any other team in the past quarter-century,

and for snagging the title of top amateur polo player in the world. It’s no surprise, then, that this sans pareil player would attract  the most prominent members of New York society to Connecticut for weekends of champagne-soaked revelry amid the confines of the spectator tents. At the end of August, the club hosts the East Coast Open, already pegged to be the ultimate cap to the summer social season, complete with a broadcast of all the festivities on NBC.


Opulence and style are at the centerpiece of the three-tournament series held every spring against the glittery backdrop of the famous Dubai skyline. Though it’s been only five years since its inception, the cup has skyrocketed in popularity and prestige to reign supreme as the tournament with the highest handicap in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. In step with its reputation as one of the most glamorous tournaments in the world of polo, the series places tremendous emphasis on fashion for both male and female patrons. The series even comes complete with a red carpet and a specially created magazine, guiding guests’ fashion choices with tips including the encouragement of statement-making heels and—of course—a big, beautiful hat. The fanfare and sense of ceremony is what truly places the Dubai Gold Cup series into an arena of its own. The presentation of competing nations’ flags on camelback, luxury cars escorting the horses onto the grounds, and acrobats, dancers and even parachutists are just par for the course at the extravagant tournament patronized by Sheikh Maktoum, deputy ruler of Dubai.


Hitting a little closer to home than the tournament’s Florida-based cousin, the Piaget Hamptons Cup is a highlight of the summer season

for scores of summering New Yorkers looking to do some good while having a good time. Presented jointly with the St. Regis, the event is both upscale and family-friendly. Guests are treated to traditional Argentine fare, while the kids take sunset pony rides around the Water Mill–based grounds. Of course, it wouldn’t be a top-tier match without an appearance by Nacho Figueras, who last year led his team to an impressive victory. Most important to the event’s hosts is the funding and awareness for Robin Hood, New York’s largest poverty-fighting

organization. Last year’s event raised more than half a million dollars for the charity, and this month’s tournament is expected to top it.


The crown jewel of the Royal Salute Polo World Series, the Jodhpur Golden Jubilee Cup perfectly captures the Old World opulence of ancient polo with the luxuries and fanfare of modern times. It is played in the shadows of the Umaid Bhawan palace in Jodhpur, India, which is considered to be the birthplace of the sport as  we know it and is consistently ranked as one of the most extraordinary and beautiful places to vacation. His Highness the Maharaja of Jodhpur presides over the days-long competition each winter, including auxiliary events like the Marwari Horse Show, fashion runway shows, and, most famous, the Golden Jubilee Ball, attended by a slew of international celebrities. Model Johannes Huebl, polo star Malcolm Borwick and actress Jennifer Tse all turned up at the 2014 celebration and tournament.


When Salvatore Ferragamo, grandson of the legendary shoe designer, presides over an event as cochair, a stylish time is all but completely guaranteed. Three hundred yards of green grounds surrounded by palm trees set the scene for the Windsor Charity Polo Cup, one of the most prominent matches in the United States. Located in Vero Beach, Florida, the high-goal biennial tournament is dedicated to raising funds for two Alzheimer’s research funds while presenting an afternoon of champagne and picnics. The tournament attracts some of the country’s finest players, including six-time U.S. Open winner Mike Azzaro.


Few establishments can match the prestige of the Meadowbrook Polo Club, which has the distinct privilege to refer to itself as the oldest

continually opera ted polo club in the United States, opening in 1879. Under the close watch of Bobby Ceparano, himself lieutenant

governor of the United States Polo Association, the club has become a top-tier destination for both exclusive polo events and friendly weekend matches. One of the club’s biggest annual events is the Harriman Cup, a decades-old exhibition match between Yale and UVA alumni to raise money for the school’s teams. The core of the Club is the players—at Meadowbrook, anyone can become a member and learn to play the sport at any age.


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