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Official Review by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Newport Polo is the home of the Westchester Polo Club, America's first polo club, established in 1876, and founding member of the United States Polo Association. In addition to hosting the International Polo Series, Newport Polo offers public exhibition matches and polo club member services for grass and arena polo, as well as polo instruction year-round.
The Newport International Polo Series features teams from around the world and from major US cities playing against teams from the United States and local teams from Newport. Matches are held every Saturday from June through September at the historic Glen Farm in nearby Portsmouth, Rhode Island.
Glen Farm was settled by colonists in the 1630's because of its desirable location and geographic features. It rose to prominence by the late nineteenth century for breeding prized livestock. After a period of decline, Boston real estate developer Dan Keating entered into an agreement with the town of Portsmouth to rehabilitate Glen Farm and renew the international polo tradition in its American birthplace.
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Since the majority of fans who come to Newport Polo bring their own food to the venue, it's not surprising that the concessions here have never been the emphasis. For the 2016 season, Newport Polo is trying to change that.
A convoy of food trucks can now be found at the west end of the field. Local favorites such as Flat Waves, Rhode Rage, Fusion Gourmet and Hawaiian Jim's all set up shop on Saturday nights to feed hungry polo fans. Lines to these trucks are not long, and they offer great alternatives to whatever tailgating food fans have brought.
Everything at Newport Polo Grounds begins and ends with the tailgating scene. Fans arrive up to four hours early to reserve their favorite spots in the general admission area. Even those fans who have reserved spaces arrive hours before the beginning of the match to set up their party areas. Don't let polo's elitist reputation fool you, the tailgating spreads here rival anything you might see before any football game, NASCAR race, or Jimmy Buffet concert.
People watching is a big part of the fun here as well. Fans come to Glen Farm dressed to the nines, and the party atmosphere here is contagious. The field is opened to fans before the match, and it's not unusual to see kids (and adults) on the field playing catch, cornhole, or even croquet. Likewise, a highlight of the afternoon comes at halftime, when fans are encouraged to come out onto the field to "stomp the divots." Hundreds of fans take the field to repair the divots dug up by the horses during the first half.
While the match is almost an afterthought at Newport Polo with all the partying going on, it is why everyone gathers at Glen Farm, after all. The presence of the public address announcer, who gives play-by-play of the action with a proper British accent and a very droll sense of humor, makes following the game all the more fun. Don't worry if you have never seen a polo match before. The basics of the game are easy to pick up, and the regulars here are more than happy to share what they know about the game.
Newport Polo Grounds are not located in Newport, but in the Glen Farm complex in nearby Portsmouth. This complex is also home to numerous youth soccer, lacrosse, and baseball fields. Glen Farm is located just off of busy East Main Road, one of two major roads on Aquidneck Island. There is not a whole lot to do in the immediate neighborhood of Newport Polo Grounds, and nothing within easy walking distance.
Downtown Newport is just a ten minute drive from Newport Polo Grounds. One of the top summer destinations in all of New England, Newport is famous for their mansions, ocean views, fine dining and nightlife. A full description of Newport's attractions can be found here.
Now in its 25th season, Newport Polo has become one of the more popular events on the local calendar. Fans descend on Glen Farm every Saturday to enjoy the atmosphere and take in the matches. The reserved seats in the Pavilion, tents and tailgating area are often filled, and the general admission area is packed several rows deep.
The crowd at Newport Polo are a mix of locals and out of towners visiting the area on vacation. Regulars mingle easily with new fans to the sport. Groups and families make up a significant portion of the crowd as well. It's not unusual to see footballs, Frisbees, lacrosse balls and soccer balls being tossed around before the match. Many fans will bring their four-legged friends to the match, as dogs are welcome here, as long as they are on a leash.
The city of Newport is located on the southern tip of Aquidneck Island, about a 45 minute drive from Providence. Once known as the premier summer playground for the rich and famous during the Gilded Age, the city continues to be a popular summer destination.
Newport Polo Grounds is located in Glen Farm, just off of East Main Road, one of two main thoroughfares on Aquidneck Island. There are no highways that run this far down the island, and with the usual heavy summertime traffic going to and from Newport, be sure to give yourself enough time to reach the grounds.
Traffic can back up getting in and out of the Polo Grounds, as the only access is a two lane road into the Glen Farm complex. There is a large parking lot adjacent to the field, and fans have access to all areas of the complex, including the paddocks and even the field before the match. Many fans will stop and visit the horses as they relax before the match. The grounds are well manicured, but those with an unsteady gait should tread carefully, as there are no paved walkways to be found.
A day at Newport Polo Grounds can be either very affordable or much more expensive, depending on what type of experience you desire.
For the most value-conscious polo fan, general admission tickets, which are good for sitting in the west end zone, cost $12. Fans can choose to sit in the bleachers located here, or bring their own blankets, chairs or tents and set up shop.
Tickets for the Alex & Ani Pavilion cost $20. Tables in the Pavilion seat between 4-8 people. Beverage service is provided by the Twisted Pony Bar, and fans can bring their own food. On selected dates patrons can reserve a spot in the Positive Energy Polo Lounge, which features complimentary hors d'oeuvres, specialty cocktails, reserved parking, a private entrance and preferred seating for $50.
Fans wanting a reserved spot for tailgating can purchase a spot along the south side of the field. These reserved spots can accommodate up to 15 people and two cars. These spots offer a great view of the action just feet from the sideline. Reserved tailgating spots cost $50, but each person in the party must also purchase a general admission ticket.
Lastly, there are several reserved chalets available for $100 per space. Each chalet can accommodate up to 15 people and one car. These chalets are located on the northeast perimeter of the playing field. Fans must also purchase a general admission ticket.
Children under the age of 15 are admitted free. Parking is located a short walk from the playing field, and is available at no charge.
An extra point is given to the tailgating scene here at Newport Polo. Seeing the intricate parties and fans dressed to the nines is almost more exciting than the game itself.
Another extra point is given to the public address announcer, who gives play by play throughout the entire match. He knows his audience, explaining some basic rules for the newcomers to Newport along with some more nuanced commentary for more seasoned fans. His digs at the players and referees alike are extremely entertaining.
The folks at Newport Polo have incorporated some unique and fun traditions into an afternoon of polo. Some of these quirky extras, such as stomping the divots at halftime and the "sweaty slap" after the game, where the players ride around the circumference of the field while high-fiving the fans, just add to the interactive feel of the day.
The Newport Polo Grounds flies the flags of every nation to ever compete in Newport along the south sideline of the field. So far, teams representing 32 nations have competed at Newport.
Now entering their 25th season, Newport Polo has become one of the must-see items on the City by the Sea's social calendar. While the action on the field is not limited to the top international players (many of whom hail from Argentina), it does feature many of the top national players from the competing countries. The socializing here is on a par with the action on the field, and the competitiveness of the matches makes for an entertaining afternoon. It doesn't matter if you are not familiar with the sport of polo, you will absolutely enjoy your time here.
Follow all of Paul Baker's stadium journeys on Twitter @PuckmanRI.
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