Polo Guide for October through November in Aiken
It’s only October, but the polo season is already almost half over. The fall polo season in Aiken is brief but intense: tournaments normally start in early September when the heat dissipates, and end in early November when cold nights leach the color out of the Bermuda grass and horses start to grow their winter coats. During those two months however, if you are a player or a fan, you can get to at least one, and sometimes as many as six or seven polo games almost any day.
Aiken’s polo history goes back to the 19th century. The first recorded game here took place in March 1882, just six years after the sport was officially introduced to America. The game was introduced to Aiken by Clarence Sutherland Wallace, a horseman, composer and executive at the Havemayer Sugar Company in Brooklyn, New York where polo was all the rage. It was a huge spectator event, with, reportedly, 10,000 spectators.
Today, Aiken has four active clubs. Aiken Polo Club, the oldest and most historic, plays on Whitney Field on Mead Avenue in the historic horse district. They also have games on Powderhouse, a complex of fields on Powderhouse Road opposite the Aiken Horse Park. New Bridge Polo Club has regular games on their five spectacular fields about 10 minutes east of town. Wagener Polo Club plays on several fields in the Wagener area, including Big Tree Polo Field on Big Tree Road and Broken Arrow Polo Club on Route 302. (wagenerpolo.com) The newest club, La Bourgogne Club de Polo, is located on Coleman Bridge Road, just over the line into Wagener, and about a 20-minute drive from downtown.
If you haven’t made it to a polo game yet, but you would like to, you have a range of options, and there are more and less formal ways to be a spectator. The least formal way is to find a weekday polo game, drive to the field, and simply go in and watch. Weekday games are almost universally open to the public and free of charge. They are also usually free of any amenities (except the port-a-pot), and there is no announcer, so if you don’t know what is going on, you might need to have someone explain it to you. The dress code is whatever you are wearing, even if you have just been mucking stalls. (Other people have, too.) If you see a weekday game in progess, you can generally just drive in and watch. If the teams are wearing uniforms with numbers on them and the scoreboard is operating, you are at a tournament game. If the atmosphere is less formal, and players are just wearing shirts with generally matching colors, you are at a practice game.
How do you find a game? The respective polo clubs usually have tournament schedules listed on their websites or Facebook pages, or take a look at The Aiken Horse online calendar, where you can find most daily schedules. A caveat however: tournament schedules change very frequently due to weather and scheduling conflicts, and the online calendar may not always have the absolute most up-to-date information, so always check the respective hotline before heading to the field.
For an upgraded experience, go to a Sunday game at Aiken Polo Club or New Bridge where you will find announcers, literature that explains everything and food and drink. Aiken Polo Club has double headers most Sundays at 2:00 and 3:30 pm, and you can choose to park for free and pay a nominal admission fee, call ahead to reserve a tailgating spot, or you can buy a ticket to the catered social pavilion. (aikenpolo.org) New Bridge usually has its Sunday games at 5 pm, but will move them to 4 pm as the days get shorter. La Bourgogne Polo Club offers a similar experience, but on Saturdays instead of Sundays. You can wear whatever you want to polo, but people who hang around the pavilions are often dressy casual.
If you want the whole “Pretty woman” experience (Richard Gere not included), find a benefit game. These may have higher admission fees, but better and more food, a party atmosphere, and a good chance of seeing people dressed up and wearing hats. We have several of them still on the schedule. These include the Ponies and Pearls fundraiser for Brooke International, an organization that is devoted to the welfare of horses and mules worldwide. This event will take place at New Bridge Polo Club during the finals of the USPA Women’s Challenge and is billed as a “Women’s Empowerment Event.” It includes cocktails, catered food, a silent auction and more. The match is on October 22 and the party runs from 3:30 to 8:30. Check the New Bridge Polo website or Facebook page for more information.
Another special event is the AFM “Give me Wings” 20 goal match at La Bourgogne Polo Club the preceding day, October 21, at 3 pm. This match, which offers a $30,000 prize, is a benefit for a foundation set up by David Meunier, the owner of La Bourgogne, to honor his son Anthony, who did not survive a car crash last year. The foundation provides grief support for families that have lost children, as well as defensive driving lessons for young people, provided by world class racecar drivers. Twenty goal is considered high goal polo and is guaranteed to be fast and exciting. We have not had 20 goal polo in Aiken since 2010, when both the USPA 20-goal Silver Cup and the USPA 20-goal Monty Waterbury Cup were played here under the auspices of 302 Polo Club. (For tickets and more information visit labourgognepolo.com)
Polo is an addictive sport. It is fun to watch, and even more fun to play. Want to try it out? There are folks around who give lessons. One of them is Tiger Kneece, who is the manager of Aiken Polo Club. Tiger runs an immensely successful youth polo program, gives lessons to adults and kids and organizes regular pro-am games, where you will discover how much fun it is to play with someone really good, and therefore, you will have to give up everything else to become a polo player. Yes, it really is that addictive. (Contact Tiger through Aiken Polo Club or 803-646-3301.)
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