By Regina Varolli
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
A year-old group of women is championing the sport of polo and chasing down money for scholarships for female college athletes interested in the "sport of kings." Annual costs for participating can run into tens of thousands, making it an expensive pursuit for women who don't often get the chance to play pro.
Because women aren't as sought after as male players, few get the chance to play a full season and make similar earnings.
Sponsorships for the big male tournament teams attract backing from luxury goods makers such as Range Rover, the British carmaker, and Cartier, the high-end French jewelry and watchmaker, eager to reach the high-income fans attracted to polo events.
Without any commercial backing, the Polo Girls' 50 members have various ways to support themselves on the side. Angela York is a photographer. Melissa Hornung is a fashion and advertising model. Jackie Jolie works three odd jobs to stay in the game.
Kate Gannon, another Polo Girl, is the heiress to the Outback Steakhouse restaurant chain, based in Tampa, Fla. Gannon grew up with horses, but Scripps said "she got sick and tired of her dad and brother telling her she shouldn't play polo, so she just got out on the field."
Polo was played as an Olympic sport in 1900, 1908, 1920 and 1924, with the last competition in Berlin's 1936 games. No women played on an Olympic team.
In 2006, Iran saw the return of women's polo after hundreds of years with the first Tehran International Ladies Tournament. All the players wore traditional garb that covered their heads and arms, even the visiting teams, including the winners from Great Britain.
The sport has the best traction for women in the United States and United Kingdom.
The U.K.'s Ascot Park in Surrey--home of the International Women's Polo Association--holds several high profile women's tournaments each year, including the Women's World Championships, the Euro and U.K. championships.
The Women's U.S. Open Tournament for polo began in 1990 as the sister of America's most prestigious polo tournament, The U.S. Open Polo Championship, which began in 1904.
The most prestigious all-female tournament, the Women's Championship Tournament, was founded in 2005 by Sunset "Sunny" Hale, America's highest ranking female polo player. The next Women's Championship Tournament final game will be held in Wellington, Fla., in April 2011. Qualifying games among 110 participants have been underway since July, with matches coming up in Honolulu in August; Aiken, S.C., in September; and The Villages, Fla., in October.
Hale, 41, is the daughter of the late Sue Sally Hale, a pioneer in women's polo who in the 1950s and 1960s would disguise herself as a man to play. Sue Sally Hale, the daughter of a screen writer named Grover Jones, was raised in Hollywood's polo scene and had her first polo pony at age 3.
Sue Sally Hale fought for nearly two decades to gain entry to the United States Polo Association, the sport's official governing body. The door opened for her and a handful of other women in 1972. Today, the association has over 600 female members. Its 24-member Team USA includes four women, one of whom is Sunny Hale.
Dating back to ancient Persia, the oldest recorded polo match was in 600 B.C. Originally, the game was played by rulers and cavalry as a means to prepare for combat. Early depictions of the sport, dating back to 8th century A.D., show women in Persia and the Orient playing polo.
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Regina Varolli is a freelance writer and editor based in Manhattan, and the owner of Words by Regina Varolli and Co. She blogs about food at Culinary Sagacity.
The Polo Girls Society:
Women's Championship Tournament:
The International Women's Polo Association:
By Regina Varolli