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Polo 101

Polo 101
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Earlier this month we gathered around to watch Patrick Reed take his first victory at Augusta. And this week, we’re eagerly awaiting the U.S Open Polo Finals at 3:00PM EST to watch defending champions, Valiente take on Daily Racing Forum.  Whether this is the first or final match you’ve watched this season it is sure to be a great game.


Each team will have 4 players and the objective of the game is to get the ball between the goal post on either end of the field. A game is divided into periods called chukkers which last 7 and a half minutes, the number of chukkers depends on the level of polo being played but typically ranges from 4-6 with a halftime taken at midgame. Each player has earned a handicap that ranges from -2 up to 10 goals. The higher the handicap the better the player.  Similar to golf, the scores of each team are adjusted based on the teams combined handicaps compared to the other team. 

The game begins with a “throw in” where the umpire bowls the ball between the two teams. “Line of ball” is one of the most important concepts to understand in polo. Every time the ball is hit it creates a new line of ball which players have to respect like the rules of the road.  Generally speaking, players cannot cross the line of the ball to make a play on it, they must stay in their own lane unless they “ride off” another player in a safe manner. This means they make contact with the other player at the same speed and direction and one player pushes the other player off the line of ball. You may also see a player try to “hook” another players mallet with their own, this is a defensive move used to block the other player from making a play on the ball.  At the end of the game the team with the most points on the scoreboard wins.


If you want to get dressed up and sip champagne, there is no better place to do so than a Sunday polo match. This weekend’s U.S. Open is among the most prestigious including the Vueve Cliquot Polo Classic, The Gold Cup, the Argentine Open and St. Regis Snow Polo. Many will offer tented seating areas with food and drinks provided in the ticket price. This is the time to bring out your Sundays best and dress to impress. Halftime offers a chance to partake in the tradition of divot stomping, where you go out on the field and help replace the tufts of grass by stomping them back into place.  I recommend always wearing wedges or flat shoes so you don’t sink into the perfectly manicured grass you’ll be walking on all afternoon. Ladies often wear sundresses or nice pants with a blouse and guys look sharp in a dress shirt with a linen or light sportscoat. I love wearing light fabrics and colors to embrace the summer season.


Most polo matches are a casual affair, with the minority being the high goal champagne serving events you see in photos, but both can be equally as fun. If you want to go watch a game, most local clubs will advertise when matches are open to the public on their website, these are usually free or a small fee per person or carload. Pack a pick nick and bring some chairs for a tailgate from the trunk of your car. I like to park field side, pop the hatch on my trunk and put a blanket down with a cooler full of snacks , wine and beer. Wear whatever you’re comfortable in such as jeans, a nice top and flat shoes. Bring a good hat, sunscreen and binoculars if you’re really keen to keep up on the action downfield.  I’ve found that most people in polo are more than happy to talk about the sport with anyone willing to listen, so go ahead and introduce yourself (to someone who isn’t busy looking) and ask about the game! I bet you’ll make a friend and learn something.  Having beer or snacks to share never hurt either.  We don’t recommend wearing heels, being over overdressed (save your suit and dresses for Sunday), or parking with your windshield towards the filed (better chance of it getting broken by a ball) Don’t sit too close to the boards, stay at least 8-10 feet back, sometimes the ball goes out or a horse will jump the boards as it gets pushed out of a play.


You can stream the U.S. Open live here on April 22 or tune into CBS on April 29 to see the full match. Be careful though, it’s easy to get “hooked”! Also, Be sure to read our Sporting Girls Guides where we highlight local polo clubs that offer lessons or games to watch!

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