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While in Florida last week on spring break, I was looking for something to do other than attend one of the dozens of baseball games being played by pro teams training in the area.

What I found was the Ritz-Carlton Members Club presenting the 2011 U.S.P.A. Women’s Championship Tournament (WCT) Qualifier at the Sarasota Polo Club. The WCT is the largest women’s polo tournament series in the world and over the course of the first five seasons, has set the standard as the premier women’s polo event in the United States.

If you’ve ever seen the film “Pretty Woman,” you undoubtedly remember the scene when Julia Roberts attends a polo match with Richard Gere. Attending a match at the Sarasota Polo Club is very much like the movie (though not as formal as Robert’s white gloves might indicate).

Polo, a team sport played on horseback, is popular in more than 60 countries around the world. The match begins when the ball is thrown in by one of the umpires, who tosses it between the two lined-up teams at midfield. From there on, the action explodes as players and horses gallop across the field, clacking mallets, and shouting orders. One or two quick shifts in momentum follow in the first millisecond. And then they’re off.

The basics are elegantly simple. The game is played between two teams of four mounted players on a field that measures 300 by 160 yards (as big as nine football fields) with goalposts at either end. The object is to move a ball downfield and through the goal in six periods of play known as “chukkers.” Each chukker is seven minutes long. There are no time-outs except for injuries, penalties, or unsafe situations. And no replacement of players is allowed except for injuries.

Intermission at Sarasota Polo Club brings an invitation for all spectators to venture out onto the field and enjoy the “stomping of the divots” like Julia Roberts.   Fans surrounding the field make their way out onto the field to search out the clumps of grass that have been unearthed by the quick stops and starts of the ponies and then toe these clumps, known as divots, back into the ground, grass side up, of course. You can recreate this classic movie moment but remember to step lively because those divots get stomped in quick.

Since 1991, the Sarasota Polo Club at Lakewood Ranch has been providing polo matches every Sunday afternoon during season. The public is invited to bring out their picnic baskets and enjoy the thrill of the “fastest game on four feet”. With pony and Clydesdale wagon rides, exciting action, tailgating, half-time entertainment, divot stomping and plenty of fresh air, Sunday polo is the perfect place for a family outing.

Although polo conjures up the image of formality, a great deal of polo is very casual. For those who have never attended a match and would like to, tailgating is a fun and inexpensive way to go.  You don’t need to dress up like Julia Roberts, but the action is out under the hot sun so a wide-brimmed hat is a necessary fashion accessory. Regulars and club members can opt to sit in the shaded club house where refreshments are generally served by an attentive waitstaff.

Wondering who won the Sunday match in Sarasota? Rude Boy Polo beat Regent. Congrats to Dana Aschinger (Lexington, KY), MVP Erica Gandomcar, Cecelia Cochran and Natascha Baecher (Argentina). An extremely fun afternoon and impressive display of skills.

Lakewood Ranch
8201 Polo Club Lane

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