Natasha Franks reviews the St Andrews Charity Polo Tournament, held Saturday 23 April at the Errol Park Estate.


 

“I do not know much about polo, but champagne is all right with me.”

VVIP guest Arek Aspinwall’s words applied to many attendees of the annual charity polo tournament, held this year at the Errol Park Estate in Perth. As the largest ticketed polo event in Scotland, the tournament’s consistent popularity may be attributed not necessarily to the excellent views of the pitch, but to the number of benefits offered to ticket holders. Last year, £35 VIP tickets granted guests five free drinks and complimentary hand massages, while standard guests were offered a cider reception upon arrival.

This year prices were raised, much to the improvement of the event. For £45, VIP guests were presented with the choice of 6 free drinks or a personal bottle of champagne. This paled in comparison, however, to the perks granted to VVIP ticket holders: Although £60 is a number to balk at, unlimited champagne, table service, and nearly unlimited food provided guests with far more than their money’s worth. The bar remained stocked with Bouvet-Ladubay Saumur Brut to the day’s end, and every available surface was crowded with an overwhelming array of scones, finger sandwiches and pastries. This abundance of canapés and champagne contributed to the garden party atmosphere cultivated by the verdant scenery.

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Photo by Sammi Ciardi

Unfortunately, the permissive state of the VVIP bar led to unconscionable behaviour on the part of several guests. A number of Very Very Important People drank themselves into states of incapacitation, “champagne fights” were not an uncommon sight, and the bar was eventually forced to serve champagne strictly in flutes, as many guests snuck full bottles to friends in the neighbouring VIP section. To their credit, the polo committee, aided by a top-notch security force, ensured that any inebriated guests were taken care of and safely escorted to the buses.

On the (literal) brighter side of things: aside from a brief shower, the grassy fields of Errol Park remained dry for the duration of the tournament. Spared from the rain, guests alternated between basking in the sun and shivering in the wind, bemoaning the absence of heaters. The marquees offered some respite from the gale, but ultimately there was little to be done to avoid the cold. The venue, while certainly beautiful, would have been improved significantly by the addition of a space heater or two.

Luckily, the capricious St Andrews weather deigned to occasionally offer us some warmth; during these periods of sunshine, we ventured forth from beneath the marquees to witness the games at closer vantage points. Aberdeen, Durham, Stirling, St Andrews, Newcastle, the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, the Old Course Hotel, and Engel & Volkers all participated in the tournament to varying degrees of success, though it must be said that the quality of the polo itself was impressive even to the novice viewer.

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Photo by Sammi Ciardi

The matches made for an excellent centrepiece to the day’s activities. Guests of all tiers settled alongside the pitch, either on blankets or chairs, as ponies galloped from one end of the field to the other (my ignorance of polo betrays itself here, as I cannot describe the gameplay with any further accuracy). Intervals were marked by the traditional divot stomping and by photo ops presented when cars drove onto the field, a visual representation of sponsor Murray Lotus. Alongside the automobiles and horses, local a cappella group The Other Guys treated the corporate section (and nearby onlookers) to a spirited set of their most popular numbers, a welcome intermission amidst the mingling.

Much to the relief of tournament guests, Polo 2016 lacked the monumental queues of last year’s event. The committee, prepared for throngs of hungry attendees come lunchtime, arranged for a variety of food trucks, from Blackhorn to On The Roll to Fresh Revolution, to peddle their wares alongside the pitch. Queueing was not entirely alien to the scene: Toilets were frequently occupied and even the plentiful lunch options did not come without a brief wait time. Overall, however, the venue appeared to handle the mobs with relative ease. The bars in particular impressed with their quick service, aided by the token system (six tokens per VIP wristband) and the guests’ proclivity for bottles of champagne.

Photo: Davis McCutcheon

Photo by Davis McCutcheon

It should be noted that the perks of polo did not end when the final buses pulled away at 5:00pm. Wristbands allow guests an extended list of benefits, a testament to the amount of sponsors secured by the committee. It is thanks to these sponsors and the approximately 1500 guests that the primary beneficiary of the tournament will be Help For Heroes, the tournament’s titular charity. Help For Heroes uses every penny donated to assist the lives of veterans and their families across the United Kingdom.

Windchill and drunken antics aside, the 2016 St Andrews Charity Polo Tournament greatly improved upon the standard set by last year’s event. The committee demonstrated an awareness of last year’s complaints and responded by giving guests exactly what they had asked for: more food and less queueing. The space of Errol Park was fully utilised, without a single area left devoid of a bar, a food truck, seating area, or space to mingle. The end result was an event that left us with extremely little to criticise.

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Photo by Sammi Ciardi

First time guest Tomaso Daytona described the day as being “absolutely fabulous,” his words evidenced by the crowd that refused to dissipate until the final match had been played. Making the absolute most out of their budget and ensuring that every guest received an appropriate amount of bang for their buck, the tournament exceeds any St Andrean event in terms of cost efficiency. Factoring in transportation, food and drink, it is an incredible feat on the part of the committee to have provided us with as much as they did.

If these past two years are any indication, we can expect the upward trend to continue for Polo 2017.

 

Natasha Franks