It’s a place — one of the toniest and loveliest on God’s green earth — where stars gather to watch some of the finest athletes of both the two-legged and four-legged variety.
And yet, on any given Sunday afternoon in spring and summer, it’s a place where everyone can feel right at home — even the family dog.
For 35 years, Greenwich Polo Club has been offering spectators thrilling match play in an atmosphere of casual elegance amid the undulating verdure of the town’s backcountry. Credit for this goes first and foremost to Peter M. Brant — businessman, art collector, philanthropist and true horseman, who fell in love with the sport when he met polo legend Thomas B. “Tommy” Glynn at the Fairfield County Hunt Club in the 1970s.
Brant is not only the founder of Greenwich Polo and the Saratoga Polo Association in Saratoga Springs, along with co-founder of Bridgehampton Polo Club and Windsor Polo Club in Vero Beach, Fla., but he’s the only breeder in Kentucky Derby history to have bred a winner of The Run for the Roses, Thunder Gulch in 1995, along with his sire and dam. (And if that name sounds familiar to you from the news recently, it’s because Thunder Gulch has been showing American Pharoah the ropes at Ashford Stud in Versailles, Ky.)
Like horse racing, polo is a team effort, Brant told WAG for last April’s “Animal Passion” issue. In 1979 — two years before Greenwich Polo was born — Brant founded Team White Birch. Anchored by Brant, who has been a top-ranked amateur player, and powered by the humorous Argentine 9-goaler, Mariano Aguerre, White Birch has become the New York Yankees of polo, having won the most high-goal polo tournaments (31) in the past 25 years, including the U.S. Open Polo Championship in 2005. Among other memorable moments was a tournament that has been called “the high-goal event of the (1980s)” and “the polo match of the century” — the Americas’ Polo Championship, which in 1986 pitted the best of North America against that of Argentina, a Brant inspiration that was televised on CBS. The cameras rolled again — last year with NBCSN — as Team Audi defeated Team White Birch in overtime to win the East Coast Open. The tournament drew more than 8,000 fans, including equestrian Jessica Springsteen — winner of the 2014 American Gold Cup at Old Salem Farm in North Salem — who was there to cheer on her beau, Team Audi’s Nic Roldan. Actor Luke Wilson was on hand to present trophies for one of the Open matches, a reminder of Greenwich Polo’s star luster.
It doesn’t take a special tournament, however, to draw some 2,000 people to the club’s matches at Conyers Farm on Sundays from June to September. Attendees come dressed in summer chic — children and dogs in tow — to watch the likes of Aguerre, Facundo Pieres, Hilario Ulluoa and Ralph Lauren Polo spokesmodel Nacho Figueras thunder down a field that is 300 yards long and 160 yards wide, the polo field being the largest in any sport. They come to spread picnic baskets and sip Champagne while savoring lobster rolls and gelato and shopping for equestrian accessories and accoutrements from Greenwich Avenue vendors. They come to sing the National Anthem, bop to the PA system’s soundtrack and stomp on the divots at halftime. Mostly, they come to see and be seen in their distinctive hats as the world strolls by.
More important, spectators turn out for some great causes. Greenwich Polo has held events for such nonprofits as The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Ashford, Conn., for children with cancer and their families, the Center for Contemporary Printmaking in Norwalk and Laurel House mental health resource center in Stamford. A 2014 Greenwich Polo match was the setting for a luncheon benefitting ECAD (Educating Canines Assisting With Disabilities), which provides our wounded warriors with service dogs. And at the last match of the 2015 season, a cheetah from the LEO Zoological Conservation Center in Greenwich made an appearance.
But perhaps Greenwich Polo’s most glittering event was the 2013 Sentebale Royal Salute Polo Cup, with Prince Harry, Figueras and Brant among other players raising money for the prince’s Sentebale charity, which aids youngsters at risk in Lesotho. The prince proved to be a regular bloke. The glitterati — from hostess Stephanie Seymour (Brant’s wife) to designer Valentino to actress Olivia Palermo, journalist Gayle King and model Karolina Kurkova — graciously trod the red carpet in chilly, rainy English-style weather. And Dawn Jones (Tommy Lee’s wife) proved the sport isn’t just for the guys, capturing the MVP award for her take-charge play for Figueras’ St. Regis team in a taut match that nonetheless saw Prince Harry score the winning goal for the Sentebale Land Rover team.
It was a magical day — one of many on Greenwich Polo’s field of dreams.
The Greenwich Polo Club season opens June 5, with the Monty Waterbury Cup, which continues June 12 and 19. Then it’s the Butler Handicap June 26 and July 10 and 17. The East Coast Open will be contested Aug. 28 and Sept. 4 and 11. Gates open at 1 p.m. Sundays, with the matches at 3 p.m. Admission is $40 per car. The dress code is summer chic. (Ladies, remember your hats.) Tickets are available online beginning April 1, as are private cabanas and boxes. The field address is 1 Hurlingham Drive. For more, visit greenwichpoloclub.com.