Until last year, the only point of reference I had regarding the sport of Polo was the scene in “Pretty Woman” where Julia Roberts is sporting a gorgeous brown and white polka dot dress and wearing an enormous hat. I was curious to see what it was all about and, luckily, Polo is available right in our “backyard” here in Lakewood Ranch.
Sunday was my second time at the matches, so I thought I’d give my suggestions for a successful outing.
The Sarasota Polo fields are located on Lorraine Road, just south of University. The general admission gate opens at 10:00 am and tickets are $12 per person, payable as you enter the grounds. The friendly Polo field staff will greet you and hand you a beautiful Sarasota Polo magazine that includes everything you need to know about the sport. Tailgate parking is first come-first served. We arrived just after 11:00 and secured one of the last spots along the field line. Each space is clearly marked to set up your area with chairs and table and tent. There’s a clear white line that you need to stay behind once play begins, but during the hours prior you can walk across the field freely. Opposite the general admission area is reserved for Polo club members and sponsors. I overheard one sponsor say that there’s a 3 year waiting list for reserved spaces.
Tailgating can be as elaborate or as simple as you want. Some regulars have a full tent, table and bar set up. Many people bring their dogs, as they are allowed, as long as they are leashed. It’s a great family atmosphere with lots of corn hole games set up along the perimeter of the field.
Once a month, tailgating takes on a theme. In December, it was “Christmas Around the World”. In January, on the 27th, the theme is “Far Out 60s”. Attendees can decorate their space and dress in costume and compete in categories such as “best groovy libation” and “best flower power fare”.
Just before 1:00, before the match begins, the horses will make a slow trot around the field so that everyone can get an up close look. After the National Anthem, play begins. It’s a very fast paced game as the riders speed past on the 10-acre grass field. There are six periods, or “chukkers”, to the game. Each chukker lasts 7 1/2 minutes. It was a little hard to keep track where the ball was and luckily the announcer kept the spectators updated on all the happenings of the game.
Spectators are kept busy even during halftime. The famous Clydesdale horses take the field giving wagon rides to the children. And, of course, the field is also open so that anyone who wants can “stomp the divots.”
If you decide to make a day of it, bring a cooler with lots of food and drinks. Dress casually –– you won’t find anyone decked out like Julia Roberts. There are vendors selling lunch and beverages also. I would also recommend a tent or large umbrella to protect you from the sun. There are some metal bleachers at the ends of the field if you can’t get a great parking spot. Don’t forget the sunscreen, too. It may be winter, but it’s still Florida. Polo season runs until April 28th, so there are still plenty of Sundays left to watch the magnificent game of polo.
Photos courtesy of Heidi Schild.