Well known throughout the world, the Oak Brook Polo Club was once considered to be one of the top summer polo clubs in America. From the time it opened in 1922, world-class teams would come to DuPage County every summer to play at the Oak Brook Polo Grounds.
By 1953, the original Oak Brook Polo Club was the largest polo facility in the country, and it was host to the U.S. Open, the premier polo tournament in the country, from 1954 to 1978—the longest period ever played in one location.
After taking a few years’ hiatus, polo came back to Oak Brook in 2012. Six events are scheduled to be played between July and October.
What is polo?
Polo is a fast-paced team sport that is played on a large grass field. Players on horseback attempt to score by driving a small ball into the opposing team’s goal using a long-handled mallet. This is much harder than it sounds!
Polo ponies are beautiful animals and incredibly strong athletes in their own right that receive rigorous training and conditioning, along with special nutrition, to keep them at the top of their game. Even if you aren’t into sports, it’s worth the experience just to see these beautiful creatures in action.
According to the U.S. Polo Association, no one knows exactly where or when polo had its start, but it is believed to have started in Asia or the Middle East, likely Persia, and was originally not a sport at all, but a means of preparing soldiers for battle. The first artifacts and paintings showing polo being played as sport date back to the middle ages.
The first polo club in the world was formed in 1859. Back then, it was a pretty rough sport with 12 to 13 players and ponies. Today, outdoor polo—which is what will be played here this summer—only has four per side on the field at one time.
The level of play and the amount of polo being played throughout the world is the highest in the game’s history. The highest rated players are in Argentina, with America and England close seconds.
How the game is played
The goal of the game is to hit the ball between the two goal posts. If the offensive team misses, the defensive team is allowed a “knock-in” from the spot where the ball crossed the end line, continuing play. The team that scores the most goals wins.
- A match consists of 4 to 8 chukkas or chukkers (periods) that last 7-1/2 minutes each. A horn is blown at the end of 7 minutes to signal to the players that 30 seconds remain in the chukker.
- During those last 30 seconds, play continues until a team scores or the ball hits the sideboards. If neither occurs in those 30 seconds the horn blows twice to signal the end of the chukker.
- There are 4 minute breaks between each chukker and a 10 minute break at halftime.
- The clock stops each time the whistle is blown, which happens when either a foul is committed or a chukker ends. During the breaks players are able to switch ponies, which can only play two chukkers in a row.
- After each goal, the teams change goals so they each get equal opportunities to score in case the field or weather is working to one direction’s advantage.
- The game is continuous and can only be stopped if a foul is called, an injury occurs to either a polo pony or rider, or if a player’s tack is broken.
A quick look at the rules
There are lots of rules to the game of polo, and most of them deal with the safety of the players and their mounts. You can get more in-depth information at the United States Polo Association web site. Here are just a few things you should know to help in your enjoyment of the game as a spectator:
- There are two umpires, and their primary concerns are “right of way” and the line of the ball. The line of the ball is an imaginary line that is formed each time the ball is struck. This line traces the ball’s path and extends past the ball along that trajectory.
- When a player has the line of the ball on his right, he has the right of way. An opponent can move the player off the line of the ball by hooking the player’s mallet, pushing him off the line, bumping him with his horse, or stealing the ball from him.
- The player who last struck the ball is considered to have right of way, and no other player may cross the line of the ball in front of that player. Riding alongside to block or hook is allowed, as long as the player with the right of way is not impeded.
- Bumping or “riding off” is allowed as long as the angle of attack is less than 45 degrees, and any contact is between the pony’s hip and shoulder.
- A player may hook or block another player’s mallet with his mallet, but no deliberate contact between players is allowed. A player may not purposely touch another player, his tack or pony with his mallet.
- For safety reasons, the mallet may only be held in the right hand.
What to bring
- Since polo is an outdoor sport, you’ll want to dress according to the weather. Attire should be comfortable and can be anything from casual to high fashion. If you’ve ever seen the polo scene in the movie, “Pretty Woman,” you’ll see lots of ladies in hats. They’re not required but provide great sun protection!
- Definitely wear shoes that are comfortable and will allow you to take part in the halftime tradition of going out on the field to help stomp down the divots created during the first half of play. It’s a lot of fun and a great way to socialize with fellow spectators. You might even get a chance to meet a player taking his break or changing ponies nearby.
- A polo field is 9 times larger than a football field and match play is very fast, so that small white ball will be hard to follow. Bring binoculars or at least try to focus on the group of players loosely surrounding the ball.
- Polo fans are usually a friendly group who don’t mind helping introduce a new fan to the sport, so don’t be afraid to ask a knowledgeable spectator near you a question about what’s going on.
- Food and drink will be available for purchase. You are welcome to bring your own picnic if you’d like.
- Limited seating is available for general admission, so feel free to bring your own blanket or chair.
All photos used under license from Oak Brook. (c) 2013 by Village of Oak Brook. All rights reserved.