Polo season is upon us, which means plenty of opportunities for watching the dynamic sport – hopefully with the sun shining and a Pimm’s in hand. But before you go, get clued up with our handy guide, brought to you in partnership with No. 3 Gin, the official gin partner of Cowdray Park, one of the UK’s most renowned polo venues. We delve into everything from the history to the rules and where you can catch the UK’s top tournaments.
The C&TH Guide To Polo Season
Polo is one of the oldest known sports in the world, thought to have originated in Persia over 2,000 years ago. The game as we know it today, though, has its roots in India. During the 1800s, British soldiers saw it being played and adapted it to create their own version, which they played as part of their training. It quickly spread through Europe, and eventually became more formal, with leagues and teams created. In 1872, England’s first polo club opened in Monmouthshire, soon followed by others, such as the Hurlingham.
Nowadays, polo is played by more than 77 countries around the world. It remains a popular spectator sport in the UK, with the season beginning in late spring and running until September.
What Is Polo?
Polo is a horseback ball game played between two teams of four players each, and involves using mallets to drive a wooden ball down a grass field and between two goal posts. There are usually six periods (known as chukkas) of seven minutes, with the aim being to score more points than the opposition. Teams change direction each time a goal is scored, and afterwards the umpire throws the ball in between the two teams. The team who scores the most goals wins, and if there is a draw another chukka is played, then the first to score wins.
Cowdray Gold Cup
Cowdray Park in Sussex has been at the forefront of British polo for over a century. Competitive polo has been played there since 1910, and the venue attracts top polo teams from all over the world. The 2023 season began on 29 April, with 35 tournaments taking place over the summer – the most prestigious being the Gold Cup. It returns this summer from 27 June – 23 July, with 40 matches running through the week, culminating in the much-anticipated final.
Alongside the polo itself, there will be plenty of great food and drink on offer. No. 3 Gin will be returning as Cowdray’s official gin partner, with a dedicated bar on-site, plus supporting special events such as the No.3 Gin & Jazz evening on 21 July. Taking place on the Lawns polo grounds overlooking the Cowdray Ruins, this will involve live jazz alongside No. 3 Gin cocktails, plus food from The Naked Food Company. 27 June – 23 July 2023, cowdraypolo.co.uk
Here are some of the drinks you’ll be able to enjoy at the event – or you can give them a try at home.
No. 3 Gin Cocktails
Every year since 2008, a polo event has taken place at Sandbanks in Poole. Here the tournament is played on sand, which adds a new level of thrill to the game: the polo ponies love the sand, as they can accelerate and stop quickly. Expect fast and furious sport – with the extra large orange ball (designed not to get lost in the sand) flying at speeds of up to 100mph. In the evenings, afterparties take place, culminating in the Weekend Closing Party, which features Spandau Ballet’s Martin Kemp alongside DJ Charles and others. 7 – 8 July 2023, sandpolo.com
Chestertons Polo in the Park
Another big event in the UK’s polo calendar is Chestertons Polo in the Park, which returned to Fulham’s Hurlingham Park from 9 – 11 June. Polo has a long-standing connection with Hurlingham Park. It was first played there back in 1874, and has since become the UK’s home of polo, hosting the 1908 Olympic Polo Final alongside the prestigious ‘Westchester Cup’ between England and the USA from 1910 – 1939. Teams representing six different cities from around the world compete over three days, with a minimum of three games of polo taking place each day. polointheparklondon.com
The Queen’s Cup at Guards Polo Club
The most important polo event at Guards Polo Club in Windsor is the Queen’s Cup, which was first presented by the late Queen Elizabeth in 1960. Although it’s a members’ club, non-members are welcome at the semi-finals (8 June) and finals day (12 June), with plenty of hospitality packages available. Various dates from 23 May – 18 June 2023, guardspoloclub.com
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