Step aside Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic (it was on June 3rd), Harriman Cup (it’s a Yale versus UVA game, so no Argentinian pros), and Greenwich Polo Club (well, I still have them on my calendar). There is a new contender attracting New Yorkers whose idea of an afternoon in nature includes getting dressed up with a glass of champagne in hand: Meadow Brook Polo Club. Founded in 1881, the United States’ first polo club is having a renaissance under new ownership. I attended a match there last Saturday, and not only did I meet the owners and their families, but with my VIP after-party ticket, I was invited to roam their Georgian estate and grounds, casually mingle with players, and even frolic in the field with the ponies accompanied by Nicaraguan stablemen (brush up your Spanish folks!). It was a next-level experience.
The History of Polo
For those who don’t know, polo is an ancient sport—rumored to have been played by nomadic warriors or at least Persians and Turkomans over 2,000 years ago. The current iteration of the sport migrated from India to the British empire in the 1850s, and during the twentieth century, Argentinians and Americans rose to dominate the sport. Polo attracts a pleasant mix of socialites, history nerds, equestrians, hang-arounds, and dare-devils. The sport is all about speed. Players mount a new horse for each new chukker—7 min period of play—to keep the advantage of explosivity. Riding at speeds of up to 60 kilometers per hour (37 mph), teams of four aim to drive the ball through vertical goalposts to score. Like most equestrian sports, teams are mixed.
In the 1920s-40s, during “the golden age of polo,” Long Island was at the center of the sport, some 50 fields dotted the area. Between 1916 and 1953, Meadow Brook Polo Club hosted 28 of the 31 United States Opens. Watching it was a popular pastime for locals. In 1928, 100,000 people watched players swing their mallets through the air during a thrilling game of 6-chukkers as players from the United States battled rival Argentinians in the Cup of the Americas.
Back then, in the winter months, ponies and their riders migrated to their estates in South Carolina. This included American polo pioneers such as Thomas Hitchcock, W. C. Eustis, and Harry Payne Whitney. Although the sport is smaller today, polo players and their entourage are still snowbirds, now they head to winter equine mecca Wellington, Florida. That is where the C.V. Whitney Cup takes place. And although there are fewer industrialist-era estates in Long Island, they still exist.
The Apres-Polo Party at Groton Place
Chetan Krishna, Meadow Brook Polo Club’s newest owner, owns one of them. Groton Place, a 108-acre estate with a Georgian-style manor house serving as its centerpiece, in Old Westbury. Designed by Henry Renwick Sedgwick for Robert Winthrop in 1932. Scenes in Woody Allen’s titles “Blue Jasmine” and “Cafe Society” were filmed there and it figurated in an episode of “Gossip Girls,” among others. It is stunning. As I mentioned, Krishna hosts apres-polo parties for his guests at this estate. After being blown away by horsepower and riveting ball play—all while sipping champagne—you are invited for dinner, drinks, dancing, and, if you make it past midnight, a dip in the pool at this 1930s old-world estate. Need I say more? If you need a break from the party just stroll (or take a golf cart) down to one of the 17 stables to pet a horse.
I hitched a ride to the apres-polo party with Krishna’s business partner Dennis—they met in the telecom business—and one of the Argentinian trainers. “Join our polo-party-polo-party-polo-party life,” she cooed. “There is something for everyone,” she continued telling me about how she trains kids and beginners in Rodapolo, where players ride an electric wheel instead of a horse—”all the rage in Argentina.” Meadow Brook Polo Club has nine polo fields where they rotate games and training, so as not to ruin the grass. The estate houses 96 horses, and 48 of them are Krishna’s. He started playing polo only a couple of years back and will be competing in tournaments at his club and at others across New York and Connecticut throughout the summer.
Krishna plays in the Dracarys—taking its name from the fire-breathing command used by the Targaryens in “Game of Thrones.” They came in second out of three in the tournament but were playing again the following Sunday at Greenwich Polo Club, which was founded by Peter Brandt. Situated adjacent to his art foundation, The Brandt Foundation in Connecticut.
You might think polo is only for the elite, but it really isn’t. You don’t actually need your own horses—the club will supply them for you. Like any team sport, it’s social and enjoyable, and Meadow Brook Polo Club is trying to make it more accessible.
Meadow Brook Polo Club Academy
But it’s not all fun and games. There is also business involved in this venture. Krishna and Dennis’s hope is to get people hooked on polo. Their website also advertises various sponsorship opportunities for businesses to access their clientele. The club’s academy with classes accommodates all levels, and every Saturday until the middle of September, the club hosts a tournament with a variety of ticket types ranging from seats on the bleachers and tailgate options to the full-blown Great Gatsby experience with dinner and a party at the estate. I highly recommend the last option that will allow you to step back in time, to the golden era of polo.
To add to the fun, every Saturday is host to a different theme with Parisian Picnic, Mad Hatter Tea Party, Roaring Twenties, and Casino Royale coming up.
The parties will get big, so go before word hits the town. The secret is out.