Polo, Passion and a Plett Summer Feeling
Local author and journalist Rene Connelly shares insight on the passionate sport of polo in her hometown of Plettenberg Bay.
I had a chat with Garth Kanigowski, vice chairman of Plett Polo and all-round, go-to-guy with an infectious passion for the sport. Garth is by no means a newcomer on the polo scene. He is accustomed to spending his time surrounded by purebred polo ponies. The Kanigowski family owns a polo club in Cape Town, and it is there that the amateur polo player, as Garth modestly refers to himself as, developed his affinity for the sport.
The South African polo community, as with the rest of the world’s, had to keep their spirits high, as international tournaments were a no-no during COVID lockdown. However, when life throws them a curveball, apart from getting out of its way, polo players knuckle down and come up with a solution. Arranging and engaging in local games and tournaments kept the thrill going, even though international games were off the table. Thankfully, the global mood has now shifted from dire to jubilation, and sponsors of the events are digging deep in their collective pockets, raring to go. The upcoming polo season promises to be one like no other, and both players and spectators are in for a humdinger. The best news of all is that Plett is home to the most pristine and highly sought-after polo fields on the African continent. A good start in anyone’s books.
Polo in Plett was a dream born from a burning love of the sport, and a desire to establish the region as an international polo destination of choice. That dream has come to fruition, and then some. The Plett Polo Club, established at the picturesque Kurland Estate, sees over 3000 chukkas played annually and welcomes hundreds of visitors, both domestic and International to experience the thrill of the game.
Polo is gaining momentum, and the ladies are determined to get in on the game. For some unexplained reason, women’s polo in South Africa became dormant at the end of the 1950s. Thankfully, that has all changed. These days the fairer sex is fearlessly saddling up and chasing after the ball. In fact, women’s polo is the fastest-growing segment in the sport.
Fans of ladies’ polo are in for a treat this season. On 31 December, the girls clad in their white breeches will fight it out for the prize in the Ladies African Open. A New Year’s Eve day party will continue long into the night, so steel yourselves for the festive celebrations.
On 2 January 2022, the Ladies International, the highest honor in the history of ladies’ polo, is set to be played at Kurland. The eighteen-goal game promises to be one of the highlights of the polo season. Bring the family along for a day of unforgettable fun.
WE ARE DELIGHTED AND HONOURED TO SHARE.
The benefits of hosting national and international polo tournaments are far-reaching and touch a vast array of local industries, both tourism and community-upliftment related. The sport not only reinforces the bragging rights Plett’s locals have enjoyed for many years but also contributes a substantial amount of money, R100 million to be exact, to the local economy.
Polo players, investors, and spectators affect the local community as visitors to any area do. They buy properties, eat out at award-winning Plett restaurants, shop at local stores, and travel in and out of the area on local airlines. The polo community is a strong supporter of charities in the Bitou area, unselfishly spreading the spoils of their success far and wide.
One of the most important goals of Plett Polo, pun most certainly intended, is establishing a mindset of inclusion. Historically nicknamed the Sport of Kings, the game of polo seemed a bridge too far for most. That may have been the case in the past, but the current thinking has shifted to a more relaxed one.
Plett certainly is the right place when it comes to board shorts and flip-flop capers. It’s a feeling, you know. “We don’t care what spectators choose to wear,” says Garth, “but rather that they experience for themselves the excitement of polo. Besides, wearing shorts and a T-shirt may not be a bad idea, with turf periodically whizzing past one’s face as the players drive the ball to the goal. All that sweat and effort is bound to get a little messy. And, the players don’t stay clean either.
Encouraging the participation of the young and the not so young is high on the priority list. This season, Plett Polo is proud and grateful to introduce a new ‘player’, Currency Assist, to the fold. Partnering with Plett Polo, the local company has established the brand new Currency Assist, Plett Polo Potrillos. Thanks to the new initiative, teenagers and those a tad younger are able to participate in the sport of polo–grooming their talent, as it were. The initiative is sure to not only stimulate but also improve SA’s future polo talent—improvement is polo’s buzzword.
As an NGO, all funds derived from Plett Polo’s tournaments are reinvested in the club and applied to the betterment of the area in general. Students of the Equine Librium College situated on the airport road are afforded the opportunity to work with the polo horses to gain experience in treating these majestic animals. It is a win-win relationship for all parties involved.
“The diversity and growth of equestrian attractions and unique experiences in Plett is exciting. The culture and legacy of polo plays a significant part of the tourism offering for Plett. One of the fundamentals of our Destination Marketing Plan aims to connect Plett’s world class reputation to domestic and international niche markets. Plett has for a while been synonymous with polo,” comments Patty Butterworth, CEO Plett Tourism.
A WARM WELCOME TO THE NEW KID ON THE BLOCK
Stonefield Polo Estate, soon to be renamed Rhone Hill, is home to proud, new owners, all the way from Ireland. The international family, who wish to remain anonymous at present, have employed the polo smarts of the well-known Spilsbury family. Said family is as committed as the owners to raising the standard of the estate to an international pedigree. They have spared no expense in this endeavour, and with the arrival of a team of ten polo players, their influence promises to be a positive byproduct for Plett
AND NOW FOR THE PROVERBIAL CHERRY ON THE CAKE
In its ninth year, the Lawyers Polo Tournament is the next big event to touch down at Kurland. This specific polo extravaganza has its roots firmly entrenched in polo royalty. Argentinian-born, Eduardo Beretebide, now resident in Paris, employs his status as a successful international arbitration lawyer, to garner as many benefits to the growth of polo. Players, all senior-level lawyers, and by invite only, meet in a different country each year, where they test their collective mettle.
Plett Polo was successful in its bid to host the premier event in 2018. Unfortunately, COVID lockdown threw a spanner in the works. After three years of anticipation and precision planning, the work has finally paid off.
Kurland is set to welcome a tour of eighty participants strong from 14 to 19 March 2022. Eight teams of four players each are looking forward to their premier, annual get-together, where fierce competition and unselfish benevolence are the top priority. Polo Plett is proud to invite all in Plett, to join as spectators on 19 March.
Not only will Plett Polo have the pleasure of showcasing its world-class ponies, 120 in number, but virtually all of the Crags hotels and guesthouses are set to show Plett’s visitors just what makes local hospitality world-class.
It isn’t uncommon for statesmen to welcome to their countries such premier events as this particular tournament. King Mohamed VI of Morocco, opened the tournament when the players competed in his beautiful kingdom. Plett Polo will soon announce their own local dignitary who will touch on issues of social-economic, especially in regards to the Bitou region. Relevant and magnanimous South African industrialists are included on the polo play sheet.
The evening promises to be far-reaching. After discussions with Tony and Suzie Lubner of the Sabrina Love Foundation, Plett Polo has arranged a showing of young local talent on the day. Spectators can enjoy field bands, singing and dancing groups, and drummers on the pavilion. One hundred youths will have their opportunity to shine. The generosity and social responsibility of the players of this tournament are truly admirable. Eduardo Beretebide insists that charity is at the heart of polo, a selfless statement indeed. Long may the game contribute to the upliftment of many.
Plett Tourism salutes the polo community at large for adding to the value of our beautiful town.
The stylish impression, painted by the world-famous artist, Moy, is an accurate representation of the beloved Game of Kings.
Find out more about Plett Polo Club.