To Bill Clark, polo means more than just a shirt.
The Scottsdale general contractor is president of the North Scottsdale Polo Club and has been playing for 13 years.
He says the sport is addictive.
“It’s like a cavalry charge without bullets,” he said.
The polo club met on Saturday to squeeze in some extra practice before today’s benefit tournament at Scottsdale’s WestWorld. The tournament will feature two polo matches, a VIP luncheon, shopping and food.
Polo is a sport that often gets overlooked, Clark said. It has a reputation of being a “pretty boy” sport that appeals only to the very wealthy.
In reality, the game can get very physical as the players knock each other around to gain possession of the ball.
“Every year the ground gets a little harder,” Clark said.
The North Scottsdale Polo Club has about 20 members, men and women, with ages ranging from 16 to 64.
Scottsdale resident Katie Haydon, 24, said her father convinced her to learn how to play and now she can’t get enough.
“The best sound is listening to horses run,” she said.
Most polo players ride their own horses, so the sport generally appeals to horse owners. Most of Haydon’s friends don’t own horses, so they just come to watch, she said.
“They’re Scottsdale girls,” she said. “They say, ‘I don’t want to get dirty.’ ”
The horses generate most of the costs of participating in the sport. Clark estimated that it would take $25,000 for a beginner to gather enough horses and equipment, plus $10,000 to $12,000 per year to maintain them.
“You must love horses,” Clark said. The horses make the sport. Without them, it would just be field hockey, he said.
Like their human counterparts, the horses must be taught how to play the game. That means constant riding and practicing. But once they get a taste of it, some of the horses really get into the game.
Haydon’s father, Gary Haydon of Queen Creek, owns a horse named Lizzie. Lizzie is kept away from the other horses before game time, he said.
The more time she spends tied up to the trailer, the more antsy she becomes. And, Gary Haydon said, she becomes very competitive.
“She talks ugly to everybody,” he said, meaning she will lift up her lips to show her teeth, or chomp in the direction of another horse.
“She gets her game face on,” he said.
The polo club often holds its own tournaments, but some of the members have competed in California, Florida and South America, where the sport is more popular.
“I try to get the neighbors interested,” Gary Haydon said. “But the cowboys are reluctant to put their manhood in jeopardy.”
Molina Fine Jewelers Polo Classic
When: 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. today
Where: WestWorld, 16601 N. Pima Road, Scottsdale
Cost: VIP luncheon $125, general admission $5 Proceeds will benefit children’s programs at Arizona’s Public Broadcasting Station.
Info: (480) 965-9614