Miami Beach Polo World Cup Stomps In
BY KIRK NIELSEN
Hublot team’s Kris Kampsen (RIGHT) goes head-to-head with The Raleigh’s Pelon Escapite
Bruce Orosz was amid the frigid peaks of St. Moritz in the Swiss Alps, about 6,000 feet above sea level, back in winter of 2004, when suddenly all he could see was sand. He’d been observing a polo match on a field of packed snow. “I said, ‘If they can do it on snow, we ought to be able to do it on the beach,’” Orosz recalls.
He returned to Miami and phoned someone at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to see if horses were allowed on beaches. Four months later, his event production company, ACT Productions, formed The Polo Life and launched the inaugural Miami Beach Polo World Cup on the sunlit sands of South Beach.
Polo’s origins are murky, but many historians concur that Persians were among the first to play some version of the sport as early as 500 BC. Muslim occupiers brought it to India in the 13th century, Brits and Americans imported it to their own grassy fields in the late 1800s, and Yanks started playing it in smaller, spectator- friendly indoor arenas in the early 20th century. As for polo on the sand, it appears Orosz’s 2004 competition was the first on the planet. The eighth annual running of the event, the 2012 Maserati Miami Beach Polo World Cup, starts April 26.
It comes as no surprise that the Sport of Kings thrived on South Beach despite the Great Recession. Like the royal courtiers of yore, if any demographic is going to ride out a bad economic storm, it’s the tastemaker set that knows what “chukker” means and relishes fine Italian sports cars (along with other kingly items sold by this year’s beach polo sponsors, including Triumph motorcycles, Lufthansa Private Jet, Grey Goose vodka, Gascón wine, and Heys USA luggage).
But there are other reasons for polo’s staying power on South Beach. One is Orosz’s decision to infuse his event with the same heady trappings that lure people to South Beach in general. “I said, ‘Let’s really spice this up,’” the ACT Productions CEO remembers brainstorming. “Let’s throw some fashion shows in and really mix it up, and do the things that people don’t expect. Because it’s a daytime event, we threw a DJ up on the stage. So between breaks, the DJ is rockin’ the house.” To kick up the sensuality/ equal opportunity aspect, there are not only men’s matches but women’s as well (the South Beach Women’s Polo Cup, started in 2008). For those who are clueless about the game, a charismatic British announcer named David Andrews informs spectators about the basics: Each team has three mallet-wielding players on horseback (as opposed to four in traditional polo), and they try to hit a brightly colored, grapefruit-size inflatable ball (resembling a mini soccer ball) into their opponents’ goal.
And as with any South Beach VIP scenario, there is the prospect of mingling with celebrities, in this case the polo athletes. “They play a hell of a match and then come into the [sponsor’s] tent, sweated up, for a beer or whatever and to hang out with everybody,” Orosz says. Revealing a key tactic from his own playbook, the 62-year-old marketing event veteran adds, “The idea is to keep it fun, integrated, so that people really feel like they’re a part of it.”
To that end, Orosz also spent several hundred thousand dollars to build a state-of-the-art covered grandstand, along with huge tents for sponsors and stables for the horses. Back in 2004, the grandstand and arena were much smaller and set on the sands off 10th Street and Ocean Drive with then-Casa Casuarina serving as party venue. (The site is now The Villa by Barton G.) But things were tight along the tourist strip, so the following year he secured the current location between 20th and 22nd Streets, where a public parking lot accommodates horse trailers and open spaces west of the dunes house stables. “We’re moving a hundred horses in and out of there each day. So we’re talking a lot of logistics,” he says.
These include meticulous timing and scheduling because a beach polo player tends to use at least four horses per match, which consists of four seven-minute chukkers (or periods), and players change horses after each chukker. Thus, a polo horse will run seven minutes at most. “These horses are not overrun; they’re not overworked. They’re meant to have a good time,” Orosz offers.
As are the human studs and fillies from Palm Beach County, Argentina, and elsewhere, who come to play hard inside and outside the arena. “There are brunches, dinners, afterparties, and after-after-afterparties. It’s unbelievable,” Orosz marvels, noting he expects The Setai and The Raleigh to be packed. “The guys who play [polo] in Wellington all come down here to kind of blow it up. And this town lends itself to rock ’n’ roll and everything else that goes with it.” Pony up, caballeros! Miami gets to enjoy the ride.
photograph by Mitchell Zachs (opener, donovan); John Parra/Getty Images for AMG (AMG 2011, Schwenck); Larry Marano/Getty Images (Figueras)