Passport to the World

Passport to the World.

Lifelong polo enthusiast Sir Winston Churchill once said: ‘a polo handicap is a passport to the world’, and it still is. Polo is a truly international sport, offering you the opportunity to go to play or watch polo in some of the top-level clubs around the world in the most stunning resorts and natural surrounds. Polo is the perfect excuse to travel the globe.

Widely known as the Game of Kings polo is a sport graced by royalty and tradition, and where best to begin the journey than in Jaipur? Polo in India dates back to at least the 16th century, when it became popular among royalty under the rule of Babar, founder of the Mughal dynasty. India still glorifies the game, and Jaipur Riding and Polo Club is one of the best places in the world to watch polo. Situated on the outskirts of Jaipur, this members’ club was founded by Colonel K S Garcha, one of India’s foremost polo talents. Not only does this club organise competitive polo tournaments on horseback, but camel and elephant polo are also options.

Over the past decade, the United Arab Emirates has established itself as part of the world polo circuit and players flock to take part in the Dubai Polo Gold Cup Series. Dubai’s polo success is marked by the expansion of Al Habtoor Polo Resort and Club, which offers exceptional equestrian facilities, including a state-of-the-art polo club.

Argentina dominates the scene in terms of horsepower and sporting skill. The Campo Argentino de Polo in Palermo, Buenos Aires, hosts the most prestigious tournament in polo history, the Argentine Open. (This is the final tournament of the celebrated Triple Crown series). With a stadium holding up to 30,000 spectators, every polo professional dreams of winning at Palermo – think Football World Cup glory. The number one ground is known as the ‘Cathedral of Polo’ and it certainly lives up to its reputation.

Australia is also a key polo country and Sydney is currently hosting the XI World Polo Championships. Ellerston in New South Wales has an important place in Australian polo history. The property was previously owned by media mogul Kerry Packer and since his death in 2005, polo at Ellerston has been run by the Packer family. The property boasts some of Australia’s best polo fields and its golf course, designed by Greg Norman and Bob Harrison, is also one of the best in the country.

Back in Asia, the Thai Polo and Equestrian Club near Pattaya, is arguably the most unique facility of its kind on the continent. Harald Link, president of the South-East Asian Equestrian Federation, and Nunthinee Tanner, considered the first female polo player in Thailand, joined forces to set up the club in 2005. Thai Polo’s Chukka Bar is an exact replica of the famed polo bar in London’s Langham Hotel, and entertaining after-polo parties draw international crowds. The world-class cross-country, eventing and endurance courses mean that the club is now recognised as the largest multi-functional polo and equestrian operation in Asia.

Also responsible for the growth of polo in Thailand is VR Sports Club, widely known as King Power Polo Club. Founded by Leicester City Football Club owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the club lies only 40 minutes from the center of Bangkok. VR boasts two full size polo fields – one of which has flood lighting, perfect for night polo. The club has also established an International Polo School, with the aim of encouraging youngsters into polo. A complete sporting haven – think basketball and tennis courts, a swimming pool and a golf course – VR Sports Club is quickly becoming one of the most important polo destinations in the continent.

But the most distinguished club of all is on our own doorstep – Guards Polo Club in England. Founded in 1955 by HRH Prince Philip, the club has grown to become the largest in Europe in terms of membership and number of grounds. Set within the outstanding natural surroundings of Great Windsor Park, the club hosts one of the most prestigious polo tournaments in the world, the Queen’s Cup. The Queen visits the club several times a year to watch top players battle it out on Smith’s Lawn, the club’s number-one ground. After the games, players and polo fanatics gather at the clubhouse bar.

Just 60km from Guards sits Cowdray Park Polo Club, internationally recognised as the ‘home of British polo’. Set within Viscount Cowdray’s 16,500-acre estate in West Sussex, the club was fundamental in the re-establishment of polo in England following the Second World War. In 1956, The Gold Cup – Europe’s most important tournament – was established. The spectacular grounds lie in the shadows of the Cowdray ruins, previously one of England’s most significant early Tudor houses. Known for its laid back, friendly atmosphere, Cowdray boasts undeniable sporting prestige and a fascinating history.

Like England, France also has a strong polo tradition. In 1920, Baron de Rothschild organised the first game of polo on the land where, years later, Chantilly Polo Club was built. In 1995, Patrick Guerrand-Hermès had the vision to establish the largest polo club in France in the heart of the Château de Chantilly estate. Just 60km from the centre of Paris, the club hosts world-class championships in a magical setting.

Europe has a rich history of polo, and one of the most famous annual events is the snow polo held at St. Moritz played on the frozen lake. The challenge of playing on snow, the unique location at 1850 metres above sea level and the sophistication of St. Moritz combine to make the tournament one of its kind.

Polo is a truly international sport. From India to France, Australia to Thailand, men and women on horseback swing mallets in some of the world’s most outstanding surroundings. First-class facilities and jaw-dropping châteaus are the name of the game.