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The Complete Novice's Guide to Understanding Polo
It’s understandable if you’re not familiar with polo. Some folks call it the “sport of kings,” and yet so very few of us are descended from royalty! If it’s only the lack of opportunity that’s prevented you from attending a polo match in the past, that won’t be a problem now. Access to polo is easy in the Coachella Valley, where matches at two neighboring polo grounds in Indio—Empire and Eldorado—take place most Sunday afternoons from January to early April.
Curious what lies ahead when you attend your first polo game? The basics are pretty straightforward, with the whole point being to move a ball downfield by striking it with a mallet, scoring a goal by knocking it through goalposts. Beyond that, here are a few fun facts that might help you demystify the sport.
Polo is the second fastest team sport (after hockey) with the ball traveling at speeds up to 110 mph. Those polo “ponies” are actually horses, usually thoroughbreds or thoroughbred crosses, and they’re fast!
Teams comprise four members, men and women alike, and their jerseys indicate the position they play. The player wearing #1 is the forward, and most likely to be taking shots on the goal. The #4 player is a largely defensive player. In between it all, #2 and #3 tend to control all the action, so you may see the #2 player race up the field, expecting a passing shot from the #3 player. That #3 player is strong on both offense and defense, acting as team captain and determining the strategy.
Players can only hit the ball from a right-handed position. Once a ball is struck, the “line of the ball” (the trajectory from where it was struck to where it is going), becomes a right of way for the player who has the ball on his or her right. Interfering with that right of way will incur a penalty.
And, speaking of penalties, there are no time outs except for injuries or penalties. There are six periods of play known as "chukkers." Each chukker is seven minutes long, after which the players change horses. There’s a 15-minute halftime, when spectators go out onto the field to stomp divots back into place. Wear your flats, ladies!
Now that you know a bit more about the game, you should be ready to plan your trip out to either Eldorado or Empire polo grounds.
First timers might well just want to try the General Admission and tailgating option—and you may discover that you like it so much that you never need to try anything else. At the lowest cost, it’s a great way to check out the sport and see what you think. Spectators at both locations have a General Admission option where you’re welcome to bring chairs, blankets, sun umbrellas plus your own food and beverage. Tailgating is a big draw, so early birds tend to arrive well before the action starts to get a field-side parking spot. Never fear, though, if you get boxed out of a premium parking space. Grab your chairs, walk over and join the crowd.
Taking the VIP route involves paying a per-person charge, which offers you an up-close seat or table to watch the game and food service. Here’s where the two clubs vary a bit, so we’ll break down the details a bit for you. For all the details, check out the clubs’ websites for information specific to the spectator experience.
Empire Polo Grounds
Sunday Polo: January 1-April 2; 12 noon and 2pm.
Note: Super Bowl Sunday (February 5) games are 11am and 1pm and there will be no polo played on March 5, 2017 due to a special event.
General admission: Free admission; $20 per car parking fee. Parking is on the east side of the field. Bleacher seating and food and beverage services are also available in the General Admission area. Dogs are welcome on a leash.
VIP: $25 daily rate per person includes VIP parking and a seat in the VIP area on the west side of the polo field. No outside food or beverages are allowed in the VIP area. Reservations are recommended.
For more information, check out the spectator page of the Empire Polo Club website.
Eldorado Polo Grounds
Sunday Polo: January 8-April 2, 12 noon and 2pm.
General admission: Free admission; $10 per car parking fee. Tailgating parking is available both north and south of the clubhouse.
VIP: $10 per person gets you a seat in the Eldorado Clubhouse, and food and beverage service. Reservations are recommended.
Weekend Polo on the Patio: January 7-March 26, Saturday 12 noon; Sunday 10am. First come, first serve seating for spectators is available on the patio outside the Cantina Restaurant.
For more information, check out the spectator page of the Eldorado Polo Club website.
If you’re interested in learning more about this fun and fast-paced sport, there’s a great primer on the Polo America website that we found useful in compiling this post.