Beach polo: Beach setting will lift polo's profile

Players going head to head on Sentosa's Tanjong Beach, as part of an exhibition match for the BMW Singapore Beach Polo Championship today and tomorrow. The smaller field and soft surface make the sport tougher than the regular game.
Players going head to head on Sentosa's Tanjong Beach, as part of an exhibition match for the BMW Singapore Beach Polo Championship today and tomorrow. The smaller field and soft surface make the sport tougher than the regular game.PHOTO: LEICA CAMERA ASIA PACIFIC

Boasting toned and taut bodies and muscles that glisten in the sun, they strode confidently across the sand.

But these are not beach volleyball jocks or hunky lifeguards ready to soak up the sun. Instead, horses from the Singapore Polo Club (SPC) and polo players will take centre stage and do battle on Sentosa's Tanjong Beach over the weekend.

The BMW Singapore Beach Polo Championship today and tomorrow is the first beach polo event to be held in the Republic. The tournament features four teams, made up of professional foreign players as well as local players from the SPC.

The matches today will begin at 4.30pm, while tomorrow's fixtures start at 4pm.

Unlike traditional polo, which has four players per side and is played on a grass field measuring 275m by 180m, beach polo is played by teams of three players on a 70m by 40m pitch marked on the sand.

According to Australian professional Ric McCarthy, the smaller playing field and soft surface makes beach polo more challenging than its traditional counterpart.

"It's a completely different game. It's faster although you don't have the same speed in the galloping," said the 38-year-old, who picked up polo at the age of 14.

"And it's all about making sure you make good plays when you have the ball, as you only have one chance. You have to think very quickly, change very quickly and adapt very quickly."

He is one of four professionals playing - the others are Kiwi Kit Brooks, Australian Dick Doolin and Argentinian Francisco Guinazu.

A key consideration in the planning of this tournament was the safety of the horses, said SPC captain Ali Namazie.

"Of course the horses were a big part of the plans, and the sand provides less resistance than a grass field does," he explained.

"Tonight we will be pumping sea water into the arena to get the surface more compact and support the horses better."

The horses were also brought on walks to acclimatise them to the beach, which Namazie says "frightened" them at first, but they eventually got used to it and started "going onto the beach and trying to swim" by the end of the walks.

Entry is free, and this is something SPC vice-captain Satinder Garcha hopes will help increase the profile of the sport.

"We don't want just polo types or horse types, but general people to see what it is about. Anyone can come and it's meant to make polo a fun thing, and break the impression that it is an elitist sport," said the 44-year-old, who captained Singapore's polo team at the 2007 SEA Games in Thailand.

Polo is not included in the list of sports for next year's Games but Garcha is hopeful it will make the cut when the final list is out next month. He said: "We won a silver then, so if we go this time, we'll be playing for the gold."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 04, 2016, with the headline 'Beach setting will lift polo's profile'. Print Edition | Subscribe