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The Best Places in The World For Watching Polo
Want to watch a chukka or two while spending some time on shore? Sophia Wilson reviews the world's best destinations for watching polo, specially for the horse-loving members of the superyacht crowd.
Credentials: The rugged landscapes of Montenegro may not be closely associated with the Sport of Kings – but it wasn’t considered a superyacht destination a decade ago, and look how quickly that changed. The communist-era naval port of Porto Montenegro is once again at the heart of the revolution with its new arena bringing four hooves to its shores. Surrounded by the fjord-like Boka Bay, its emerald waters provide a sparkling, postcard-perfect backdrop.
What to watch: Following the inaugural event in 2019, Polo in the Port will take place again next August (6 to 8). Four teams will compete at the pop-up waterside venue and there will be a busy social programme, ending with a party by the beach club’s iconic infinity pool.
Pretty woman: No problem if you haven’t packed with polo in mind, its waterfront shopping promenade is packed with designer brands including Valentino, Victoria Beckham and Gucci.
Hoof healing: Tired feet from all that divot stomping? Enlist the help of the cavernous spa within the marina’s Regent Hotel. Try the rose hydrating foot treatment, where your tootsies will be wrapped in a rose gel to allow deep penetration of the oil. If you want total privacy the spa will send therapists directly to your yacht.
Best by boat: It’s hard to imagine a more easily accessible event by superyacht. With more than 400 berths and the ability to host boats of up to 250 metres, the more the merrier.
Image courtesy of the Porto Montenegro.
Credentials: The Sotogrande community was created in 1962 by Filipino industrialist Col Joseph McMicking and its gated villas soon hosted summer soirées packed with the Med elite (think Mustique overlooking the Rock of Gibraltar). Polo followed thanks to McMicking’s nephew, Enrique Zobel, who created the Beach ground in 1965. Fast forward 50 years and there are now 16 fields in this sun-drenched corner of Andalucía. The high-goal action centres on the manicured lawns of the Santa María Polo Club, dubbed the Wimbledon of polo grounds. Situated on the banks of the Guadiaro estuary, its fields are divided by palm trees and white canvas parasols to protect visitors from the Spanish sun.
What to watch: The International Polo Tournament (part of the Grand Slam), is held annually at Santa María. Next year the event will take place between late July and early August.
Dress to (casually) impress: Men can’t go far wrong copying the look of polo-playing Ralph Lauren model Nacho Figueras (polo shirt and chinos). Ladies, think chic summer dresses and comfy wedges (it isn’t Ascot).
Steaks are high: Homesick Argentinian polo players get their protein fixes at Cancha II, which serves up steaks flown in from South America and flamed on a traditional wood-burning grill. The rustic restaurant sits above the Ayala Club’s polo grounds, perfect for sundowners while watching the evening chukkas.
Start from scratch: Christian Byrne, from the family that started luxury ski company Powder Byrne, has turned his expertise to summer activities with Polo Valley. With more than 50 ponies, including a free-roaming Shetland, it offers lessons for all abilities.
Buy your own stable: La Reserva Club Sotogrande’s latest development, El Mirador, still has palatial modern mansions for sale.
Best by boat: Sotogrande’s marina is near the Santa María Polo Club and can host yachts up to 70m.
Image courtesy of Ricardo Motran.
Credentials: OK, so it’s not accessible by superyacht (fair cop) but for the Snow Polo World Cup it’s worth leaving the sea behind. It is the only tournament in the world played on a frozen lake (the ice has to be more than 50 centimetres deep to hold the ponies’ weight) and the only high- goal tournament played on snow. VIP tents line the lake with the snow-covered peaks of the Engadine Valley providing a dramatic backdrop. Created in 1985, there are now copycat competitions worldwide – including Aspen, Cortina and Tianjin – but you can’t beat the original.
Spectator sensation: The last weekend in January 2020 (24 to 26) will once again see four high-goal teams do battle in the chocolate-box-pretty Swiss ski resort. More than 18,000 fur-clad spectators are expected to cheer from the sidelines and enjoy the social programme, which includes an invite-only fondue night and gala dinner.
Cinderella steps: It’s not just the spectators who don their finest winter gear for proceedings. All of the ponies are fitted with special shoes with added studs to stop them slipping and pads to keep the snow away from their inner hoofs.
Rest assured: When you have had your fill of the play (on and off the field) make the short zig-zag drive up the hill to the fairy-tale charm of Suvretta House. The château exudes old-school luxury and guests can make use of its private ski school, outdoor ice-skating rink and curling field.
On the right track: If you are short on time, private jets can land at nearby Samedan Airport or for a more scenic arrival take the Glacier Express from Chur (an hour from Zurich Airport). Pass over iced lakes and through towering pine forests before being greeted by a nattily dressed chauffeur and Suvretta’s bottle-green vintage van.
Image courtesy of Melissa Michel.
Credentials: The tale goes that in 1876 the publisher of The New York Herald, James Gordon Bennett, invited a dozen gentlemen for dinner at his New York estate. After the meal the guests were invited to try their hand at the new sport of polo, that Bennett had recently seen in England. They were so taken with the game that the Westchester-based players formed a club and set up playing fields to practise near their summer country retreats – and so Newport became the first polo club in the US. The original club remained active until 1929 when the Great Depression brought about its demise. It was revived in 1992 and, although it is still registered under the historic Westchester name, it is popularly known as Newport Polo. It still maintains its old-school feel with a linden-tree-lined drive, restored barns and drystone walls.
What to watch: If you are in Newport on a Saturday in the summer, then attending the International Polo Series is a must. Team USA/Newport take on challengers from 6 continents from 5pm.
Take your pick: If you want to don your best hat and quaff Veuve Clicquot in the Twisted Pony bar then head for the Pavilion. Alternatively, swap the hat for a picnic blanket and hang out with the locals and tailgaters on the lawn.
Best by boat: Newport Marina can host yachts up to 42 metres. Or step back in time with a day charter on one of the four classic America’s Cup 12 Metre yachts from the 1960s that are kept in Newport Harbor.
Image courtesy of Newport Polo.
Casa de Campo
Credentials: With three playing fields and a large string of polo ponies, this tropical corner of the Dominican Republic is an equestrian nirvana. The Argentinian god of these pancake-flat fields and immaculate stables is former ESPN polo commentator Fernando Arata. Its verdant tropical setting adds to its allure and its fields are surrounded by millionaires’ mansions that have some of the best views of the action.
Watch to watch: The Caribbean nation has had form in the sport for more than half a century, but in 2018 it introduced a high-goal polo season – the Polo Challenge. Set to return next spring, it promises a must-watch event every weekend for a month. The new series has attracted some of the world’s best (10-goal handicap) players, including Juan Martín Nero from Argentina and Uruguayan David Stirling.
Donkey work: Want a taste of polo at a slightly slower speed (and closer to the ground)? Casa de Campo has a herd of donkeys that can be enlisted for light-hearted stick-and-ball tournaments.
Cowboy kicks: Riders seeking a more adventurous equestrian experience can head to Rancho Peligro – 4,000 hectares of back country owned by Casa de Campo – and ride through rolling green hills alongside wild buffalo.
Best by boat: Where the Chavón River meets the Caribbean Sea, Marina Casa de Campo can accommodate yachts of up to 76 metres and is perfectly positioned to access prime sportfishing waters.
Image courtesy of Brett Winter Lemon.