ralph lauren uk A Comeback for Polo and Croquet
CROQUET and polo have long been thought of as Great Gatsby types of sports, games played by the gentry. Their popularity faded after the 1930’s, but now, after a long hibernation, both are again thriving. But this time around, enthusiasm for the sports appears to extend far beyond the top drawer.
According to the United States Croquet Association, 300,000 croquet sets will be sold this year, twice as many as five years ago. ”More people are playing croquet in their backyards, country clubs and municipal courts,” said the association’s administrative director, Anne Frost. ”One reason they’re attracted to the game is because there is no age limit, and both sexes can compete on an equal footing.”
In Connecticut, four new clubs emerged last year, in Darien, Easton, Greenwich and Madison, bringing the state total to 11. More recently, two of game’s most fervent supporters, Frederick and Patricia Supper of Greenwich, persuaded town officials to open the state’s first municipal croquet court, in Bruce Park.
More people in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s are being drawn to their local greenswards. One newcomer to the game is Leighton Strader, a 40 year old investment banker who plays croquet several times a week at the Ridge Acres Mallet Club in Darien. ‘It Taxes the Mind’
”The great thing about the game is that it taxes the mind,” Mr. Strader said. ”You experience the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat in one game. And let’s face it, after you get to be 40, you realize you’re going to lose a step or two on the tennis court.”
Attendance records at the Greenwich Polo Club, a few miles away, have more than doubled in five years, with one recent match attracting more than 1,500 spectators. And two polo matches at the Ox Ridge Hunt Club in Darien have attracted record numbers.
”Five years ago, if you could get the players’ families to come to the matches, you were lucky,” said Ox Ridge’s polo manager, Louis Lopez. ”Now we’re getting crowds numbering in the high hundreds.”
Nationally, the number of players registered with the United States Polo Association has increased by 50 percent, to 2,650, with many of those recruits coming from the business world.
Mr. Lopez added that polo lessons are also on the rise. ”They’re mainly Wall Street stockbrokers or doctors or lawyers,” he said, ”people with a strong riding background and a competitive attitude.”
Bob Lehr, the associate director of athletics at Yale University and a sports historian, said, ”We’re seeing a revival of the Great Gatsby era” in which the economy is good and people are more adventurous. ”They’re curious and want to explore something different from baseball and basketball.”
Mr. Lehr also noted the rise of corporate sponsorship for both sports. Many companies are trying to cash in on polo’s cachet, joining the likes of Cadillac, BMW, Rolex and Ralph Lauren (who uses Polo as a brand name). From almost nothing a decade ago, companies now earn an estimated $25 million a year by sponsoring polo tournaments and teams.
Although spectators’ attendance records are the highest in decades, polo will never reach the popularity it once had in the 1920’s and 30’s, maintains Tommy Glynn of Fairfield, who played on the 1924 Harvard polo team, and now helps manage the White Birch polo team at Conyers Farm in Greenwich.
”If you look back at the records of the Meadowbrook Polo Club on Long Island, which seated up to 50,000 fans,” he said, ”you’ll notice that those stands were full many times.” Still Expensive Sports
The sports can be costly. A backyard croquet used to run about $60, but the sets used in tournaments and clubs today cost $1,200 and up. And the manicured turf used as croquet courts costs from $5,000 to $50,000 to lay.
Those getting into polo today can expect to spend from $20,00 to $500,000 a year, depending on the quality of the horses, their care and transportation.
Still, many polo converts come simply to enjoy the pageantry. At the Greenwich Polo Club one recent afternoon, clothing ran from wide brimmed hats to Izod shirts and Ralph Lauren jodhpurs, refreshments from hamburgers to boiled shrimp and from Budweiser to Champagne. Behind the green and white tent, Jaguars and Maseratis sat side by side with Rabbits and Broncos.
Many in the crowd of more than 1,500 picnicked on decorative quilts or blankets. Some, like Jakob and Esther Meier and their 3 year old son, Philipp, were watching their first match. Residents of Cos Cob, they ”wanted to see the horses and simply relax,” said Mr. Meier, adding, ”It’s great family entertainment, and one of the few places you can bring small children and not worry about them disturbing anyone.” Carrying on a Tradition
Annette Erhardt of Danbury recalls going to polo games as a child with her father. Now, she takes her own two offspring. ”It’s a fascinating game and it gives the children a chance to see the animals,” she said while her 2 year old daughter, Ginger, played nearby. ”Also, it’s a much more relaxed atmosphere than a zoo.”