Imagine trying to hit a 3-inch ball with a wooden mallet through a pair of goalposts nine football fields away. Now picture doing it at breakneck speed on the back of a horse that’s been trained to turn on a dime and stop dead in his tracks at a split-second’s notice — all while seven other riders try to get at that same tiny ball.
The game is polo, and you can watch it from the sidelines Saturday at The Polo Party, a first-ever event organized to increase interest in the sport in Arizona and raise money for two nonprofits — Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and Scottsdale Downtown & Entertainment District Association.
“The closest thing I can liken it to is hockey, in that like hockey, it’s a fast-flying game,” says Arizona Polo Club president Bill Clark. “It’s a very physical game. The player and mount can weigh three-quarters of a ton and travel at speeds up to 35 miles an hour. It’s not for the faint of heart.”
The match begins at 1 p.m. An announcer will give background on the sport and call the action, explaining what’s going on for novices.
“That’s helpful, because very few people grow up knowing the rules of polo like they know the rules of baseball,” says Clark, a home building contractor who took up polo 18 years ago.
At halftime, spectators will be invited to “stomp the divots” — a long-standing tradition in which fans, and sometimes the polo athletes themselves, wander the field, tamping down the torn-up turf.
“It’s all good fun designed to put the field a little bit back together, and it involves the spectators and gives everyone a chance to stretch their legs and show off their hats,” says Clark, referring to the fancy hats women sometimes wear to matches in prestigious settings.
But, he says, there is no dress code for Saturday’s game.
“If you want to come casual, you’re not going to be out of place. It can be as fancy as you want or as casual as you want.”
General admission tickets ($10-$12; free for children 10 and younger) entitle spectators to picnic tables or their own folding chairs or picnic blankets next to the field. Observers who want a ritzier experience can purchase VIP tickets for shaded seating, food and beverage service, and a champagne and cigar lounge.
“It’s going to have that ‘Pretty Woman’ flair to it, with ladies in cocktail attire and guys in maybe a sweater and slacks, if you want that,” says event organizer Jennifer Parks. “But we wanted to make it a really affordable and family friendly event, too. At halftime, kids are going to be able to go out on the field and pet the horses. The Arabian Horse Association of Arizona is putting on a show, and Dan Majerle is going to do the ball drop for us. Eddie Matney, who owns Eddie’s House in Scottsdale, is catering all the food, but times are tight, so if folks want to bring in their own picnic baskets and save a little that way, we certainly want them to do that.”
Luxury cars from the 2012 Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction and Lamborghini and Ferrari clubs will be on display.
Parks says she’s even invited Britain’s Prince Harry, said to be in and out of Arizona for military training, to the Polo Party. She hasn’t any idea whether he’ll show.
But, says Clark, “you don’t have to be a prince or a captain of industry” to enjoy polo. He encourages spectators to reach out to players, all of whom have day jobs, after the game if they’re interested in learning more.
“The (Arizona Polo) Club offers lessons and will do everything they can to help new players explore the sport,” he says — even if they don’t yet own a horse.
If you go
What: The Polo Party features a 1 p.m. polo match, along with food, drink and entertainment on the sidelines.
When: 11:30 a.m. to about 3 p.m. Saturday, rain or shine
Where: Westworld of Scottsdale Polo Field, 16601 N. Pima Road
Cost: $10 in advance, $12 at the gate; free for children 10 and younger. VIP tickets are available for $44-$60 per person. A portion of proceeds benefit Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and Scottsdale Downtown & Entertainment District Association.
Information: (480) 495-3806 or www.thepoloparty.com
• Contact writer: (480) 898-6818 or firstname.lastname@example.org