Play polo, Barbados

Article by Karen Kranenburg, photography courtesy Lion Castle and Lisa Davis

Barbados is the jewel in the Caribbean polo crown, and although the sport has been something of an institution in the island for more than 150 years, the last three years have seen some radical changes in the way the sport is played and run on the island.

As an avid polo player and enthusiast, who had played polo in some incredible destinations around the world, from Australia to Argentina, I saw the potential of Barbados as an alternative winter polo destination. The synergy between Barbados, “a world class destination,” and polo, “a world class sport,” was unrivalled. The location: superb, with regular direct flights from North America and UK. The climate: fantastic. The country: English speaking, their season dovetailing with the Argentine and European season perfectly and the island’s polo fields were on the verge of expansion to include some world-class facilities. Over the last five years, I have seen destinations with a lot less potential than Barbados walk in and steal the polo limelight, so why not Barbados, which had everything going for it.

Although there are many female players on the international polo circuit, polo is still very much a man’s game. Add West Indian chauvinism to this and you will realise that for me, translating this dream to a reality was never going to be easy. Initially, the local polo establishment was exceedingly sceptical; this scepticism was exacerbated by the fact that the protagonist was not only a female but also a foreigner. However, there were those who saw the exceptional potential in the vision and with the support of the Barbados Tourism Authority, Colombian Emeralds and some other local corporate sponsors and eventually, the local polo establishment, galvanised by Bruce Bayley, the 14-goal Colombian Emeralds Barbados Open was born.

Although other Caribbean islands, such as Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and to a lesser extent, the Cayman Islands have burgeoning polo traditions, there is no tournament of this calibre played in any of these locations. The inception of the Barbados Open in March of 2003 and its tremendous success has changed the face of Barbados polo forever. With the introduction of higher handicapped tournaments and a much wider involvement of overseas professional players (some of the highest handicapped foreign players ever to visit Barbados have come to participate in this tournament, the highest being Jose Donoso, eight goals, from Chile and Rafael Silva, seven goals, from Uruguay) professional management, the considerable involvement of corporate sponsors and extensive media coverage from the local and international press, Barbados polo has finally come of age.

Polo was introduced to the island in the late 1800s. The British Cavalry brought the game of polo to Barbados during the last century, although the Barbados Polo Club dates back to 1884; it folded in 1929 during the Depression and was not resurrected until 1939. Henry Arthur Deane and Lyle Jones spearheaded the new club, which eventually moved from the Garrison Savanna to Holders Hill in 1965. That move owed much to the generosity and benevolence of Janet Kidd, whose son Johnny and grandson Jack later became excellent players, and whose supermodel grand-daughter Jodie, is also now following in her father’s and brother’s footsteps.

Family traditions are strong in Barbados and the many photographs in the Holders club house are a testament to this, providing a colourful picture of a vibrant club, rich in history, folklore and character. As well, there are, in some instances, two and three generations of a family, like the Williamses, the Deanes, and the Atwells, who are an integral part of the Barbados polo fraternity. The Club now has over 30 regular players and long-standing friendships with polo clubs from Jamaica, Cheshire in the UK and the Village from Florida, who have been making the pilgrimage to Barbados for more than 10 years. The introduction of high-goal polo to the island has seen an influx of new visitors, from as far away as Australia, as well as some of polo’s up and coming international superstars.

Most recently, the polo facilities on the island have been extended to include three new spectacular playing fields, one at Clifton in St. Thomas, developed by one-goal player Bruce Bayley; Waterhall, developed by Sir Charles “COW” Williams: and Lion Castle, developed by Kent Cole. The development of these three new fields will not only relieve some of the pressure on the ground at Holders, which has been used to its fullest capacity over the last 40 years, but will also provide superb facilities for visiting and local players. Additionally, Clifton and Waterhall will extend their operations further in the New Year with the addition of one new field apiece, and substantial stabling facilities.

The Polo Barbados programme has also evolved in key overseas markets, with the popular Polo Barbados Challenge Trophy in the UK, and more recently, the hugely successful Barbados Polo Challenge in Bridgehampton in the USA, with new tournaments set to follow in the New Year in Toronto, Calgary and West Palm Beach.

The 2005/2006 Polo Barbados season promises to be an exciting one for players and spectators alike; the local season runs from December to April, and facilities for visiting players, from the professional to the novice, to rent horses, take lessons, stick and ball, play chukkers and organised matches are available at Clifton and Waterhall. We hope to see you in Barbados some time soon for some world-class polo—and maybe even the odd party or two.M

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