by Lori Capullo
Polo matches were first played on this site when two of the property’s executives, President John Clark and Vice President Clive Morris, joined the cowboys who worked the ranch in knock-around games during breaks. In 1991, it was incarnated as the Sarasota Polo Club, and today encompasses nine polo fields across 130 acres, two stick-and-ball fields, and 35 private ranches. During polo season, more than 600 horses are stabled in and around the club. “We’re seeing a big surge in our polo school,” says polo manager Rebecca Gutierrez. “Probably by the time this season is done, we will have doubled the number of students coming through.” She adds, “Our dynamic is older, settled, and they want to do something fun and exciting.”
Learn to Play: Novices and experts can play here. “People usually love it from the beginning, even if they’re afraid to be on the back of a horse,” says the club’s Leah Elliott. “We even have wooden horses to help you get over your fear of the real ones.”
The Lay of the Land: The club has nine all-grass fields, but students start in the walled, open-air arena, which is regulation size, with three players at a time and shorter chuckers (time periods). “Basically, time periods are shortened so novices don’t fatigue so easily,” says Elliott. “Since the arena has walls, the balls don’t go out of bounds and students can control the horses better.”
Cost: $100 an hour for private lessons. The first lesson is to evaluate riding skills, then you can join a group, which is recommended so you can practice scrimmaging; group lessons run $85 per hour.
With 30,000 spectators a year, The Villages counts itself as one of the best-attended polo clubs in the country. The facilities include three boarded Bermuda fields, new barns and an elevated three-level stadium. The Villages says it has seen a steady increase in students each year. “Lessons are definitely popular again, especially since the economy has started coming back,” says director of polo Stuart Campbell, a South African native who is a former player and 15-year instructor. “I definitely get a lot of older people, but we also get school kids who love horses and whose parents can afford it. This is not a poor man’s sport.”
Learn to Play: Newbies are started off with individual lessons. How quickly a student advances to playing games is contingent on his or her riding skills.
Cost: $100 an hour for one-on-one tutorials with Campbell; once students graduate to playing games, the horses can be rented for $150 per chucker. All equipment necessary for lessons is included in that price. “All you need to have is a pair of jeans,” says Campbell.
Celebrating its 10th anniversary as one of the world’s most famous polo clubs, International Polo Club is where prestigious matches such as the USPA Piaget Gold Cup and the USPA Maserati 109th U.S. Open Polo Championship are played, and the stars come out in droves to watch. IPC offers entry-level polo matches with rated players participating as coaches, plus weekend packages that include the Sunday brunch and game tickets. Also available: Weekend memberships, which include day privileges to the pool, spa, tennis program, golf courses and restaurants.
Cost: The price varies based on length of lesson, the student’s horsemanship ability and other factors. Director of polo operations Jimmy Newman estimates that an introductory lesson costs about $250.