Jun 27, 2017 9:04 PM
Often overlooked and extremely underrated, the sport of arena polo has much to offer the casual polo spectator. Viewers are transported into the game, with up close and personal views of the action with proximity to both the human and equine athletes as they race past, turn on a dime, bump and maneuver. For over twenty years, long before the newly minted Gladiator Polo™, Great Meadow Polo Club in The Plains, Virginia, has been effectively showcasing the exhilaration of the sport to thousands of spectators. Year after year, players of all levels pursue the glory of competition and victory in front of a packed and cheering crowd. A thriving spectatorship, which feeds into a fruitful polo school, proves that arena polo is not to be underestimated. Breaking the mold, Great Meadow Polo Club sets the precedent for arena clubs nationwide.
Great Meadow Polo Club operates on the grounds of the Great Meadow events center and steeplechase course, permanent home of the Virginia Gold Cup steeplechase classic. The 380-acre expanse of land, in the heart of Virginia horse country was founded, and later donated, by news executive and polo player Arthur W. (Nick) Arundel. Currently managed under the supervision of the Great Meadow Foundation, the non-profit organization is dedicated to the preservation of open space in the area for equestrian and community use. “What’s so special about Great Meadow is that it is always going to be here,” stated Club Manager John Gobin. “It’s not a private club, no one owns it, it’s a foundation and it has a polo center built in. It’s run by the foundation and I manage it as a community polo center. It’s all different levels, it’s open to everyone and it’s not owned by anyone – all are welcome."
“Sometimes you can’t even walk up on the berm. It’s like a crowded beach.” – John Gobin, Great Meadow Polo Club Manager
This commitment to diversity and inclusivity is mirrored both on and off the polo field. The main attraction “Twilight Polo”which takes place Saturday nights under the lights, garners upwards of 2,000 visitors, with three guaranteed games beginning at 6pm ET. “General admission is $40 a carload, that gets one car in and you can pack it full of people,” said Assistant Manager Whitney Ross. “General admission includes a grass berm, where guests can set up blankets, chairs and bring their own little coolers and picnics. The next level is a tailgate spot, then there are the ringside VIP boxes, plus, on two corners there are entertainment decks for big groups.” Aside from an assortment of viewing options, each Saturday is themed and the crowd is encouraged to dress up and take part in the overall entertaining and lighthearted atmosphere. “We have Military Appreciation Night, which is our opening event and that’s followed by fireworks. So everyone that is in the military gets in for free,” said Gobin.
“We continue to elevate the polo experience and grow our family-friendly environment,” said Ross. For starters, any youngster who returns a ball that has flown out of the arena is rewarded with candy – an astute and worthwhile bribe all arena clubs should consider adopting. “We have a massive tug of war in the arena at halftime and the players from the 7:00pm game will anchor each side,” continued Ross. “Then the club mascot Polo Bear leads the kids on a two-lap race around the arena. After the 8:00pm game, we put out foot mallets and balls and the children have a go in the arena hitting balls, running around and just having a good time.”
Adults of all ages are also guaranteed a fabulous evening with on-site wine selections from title sponsor Greenhill Winery and a dance party in the pavilion following the evening’s competitions. According to the Great Meadow Foundation website, “What could be more perfect? Virginia wine in Virginia horse country while cheering on your favorite polo team!” Take a moment, and just imagine if you were playing in the game!
“People see Twilight and they want to try it!” exclaimed Ross. “We are constantly getting a new group that comes in to take lessons. I have someone contact me at least once a week interested in lessons. It really helps to bring in new customers.” Established in 2011, the polo school directed by Gobin a USPA Certified Polo Instructor, recently moved locations to a farm conveniently positioned directly across the road from the arena. “It’s literally right across the street from Great Meadow and it’s almost 100 acres, with two big barns and tons of tons of paddocks and grass for the horses,” said Ross. “We started here with very little,” recounted Gobin, “and in six years we have grown to include 30 boarders, 15 school horses, plus my five horses which also go into the polo school, for more advanced riders.” A 2017 Polo Development Initiative award recipient, they recently revamped their website, the remainder of the award replacing broken tack and other necessities required to keep a prosperous polo school running smoothly.
The average trajectory for a polo student leads from lessons to coaching chukkers, followed by a student’s “big break” under the lights in a beginner 6:00pm featured match. Where else can a novice polo player have the opportunity to impress their friends and family in front of a multitude of fans!
Formerly the home of the U.S. Open Arena Polo Championship© for many years, the 7:00pm and 8:00pm games offer more competitive traditional tournament style polo with professionals. Gobin insists however, that high-goal polo is not what makes polo spectating enjoyable, instead it is seeing the people you are watching having the time of their life—their emotions translate into the audience. “The best polo game in the arena that I ever watched was a bunch of 2-goalers,” recalled Gobin, “there were six 2-goalers and they all hit it and ran, it was amazing!”
While arena polo is Great Meadow Polo Club’s main draw, their grass polo is not far behind. The arena is flanked by a world-class polo field built in 2001, which annually hosts The National Sporting Library & Museum’s Benefit Polo Match & Brunch in September. A highlight of the season, this year’s match will feature Nacho Figueras among the rosters, along with teams representing the British Military and Dubai.
Located 45 minutes from the nation’s capital, Washington D.C., and only 20 minutes from the self-proclaimed “nation’s horse and hunt capital” in historic Middleburg, Virginia, Great Meadow Polo Club holds its own as arguably the arena polo capital of the nation. Tree-lined and elevated berms offer stunning views of open horse country with crowds reminiscent of the golden age of polo. Arena polo is alive and well at this Eastern Circuit club and Great Meadow Polo Club offers insight into one of the many ways clubs can secure the future of polo.
For more information visit www.greatmeadowpoloclub.com and click here to purchase tickets. For up-to-date schedules of tournaments and public matches, "Like" Twilight-Polo GMpolo on Facebook and follow them on Instagram (@tgmpolo) and Twitter (@TwilightPoloGMp).
All photos © Tony Gibson/22gates.com
Effective Date: Saturday, May 16, 2020
The suspension of USPA Tournaments and Events will be lifted for USPA Member Clubs in locales where hosting polo matches and tournaments is permitted under applicable state and local laws, executive orders and similar decrees. The USPA Member Clubs in these locales are encouraged to follow all such requirements of their state and local authorities with respect to polo operations. In addition, we also encourage all USPA Member Clubs to take the precautions recommended by the CDC. We are preparing a detailed list of best practices for USPA Member Clubs as they return to hosting USPA Tournaments and Events and plan to circulate these guidelines within the next week. We will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation closely and will notify you if we determine a different course of action is necessary.Read More