THERE’S only one place to be ‘in’ with the ‘in’ crowd in summer on the Costa del Sol and it’s not Nikki Beach.
Given a choice between watching Premier League p***heads taking champagne showers, or four-horsemen teams displaying apocalyptic skills on a field triple the size of a soccer pitch, I know where I’d rather be. In Sotogrande, for the Land Rover International Tournament at Santa Maria Polo Club.
For one, you get a better class of spectator. Although I had to check the pages of ¡Hola! to realise I’d been mingling with the Duke of Anjou, the Duchess of Alba’s son and his missus, plus various heirs to the Hermes and Domecq dynasties.
There’s a gladiatorial splendour to polo – the serried ranks of equestrians built like Russell Crowe, the musky scent of horseflesh, enough ponies to shoot the remake of Ben-Hur…
This year’s 43rd edition featured a white-tented shopping village selling must-haves at go-without prices, ‘apres polo’ parties awash with Grey Goose Vodka and players from 17 countries including five ‘10-goal handicappers’ (there are only seven in the world). That’s the soccer equivalent of Messi, Ronaldo, Suarez, Ibrahimovic and Bale breathing the same air. You’d never see that at Ocean Club!
Except for Finals days, the Bronze, Silver and Gold Cup matches are free to see, so it won’t cost you a mint. Although with an iced espresso at €4, wads of cash are required to see you through a long night of Gold Cup-winning drinking.
There’s an art in not making a horse’s ass of yourself – and not only the ability to tell one end from the other after a pitcher of Pimms (they’re ponies, btw, not horses). With the Andalucia Polo Championship coming up (September 12-21), may I suggest a few pointers?
By all means swat up on polo-speak (goal, ball, mallet) but on a need-to-know basis, you only need to know this: a chukka has nothing to do with throwing up. It’s a period of play in a match. There’s a three-minute break between each chukka, for players to change ponies and spectators to recharge glasses.
The Sotogrande set can put it away but they don’t do ‘drunk’. ‘Tiddly-poo’, yes. ‘Legless’, neigh, neigh and thrice neigh. Having to be carried out comatose? Social suicide!
Polite clapping between chukkas is encouraged. Chanting and screaming is not! In Sotogrande, speak sotto voce: a simple ‘bravo’ or ‘jolly good show’ at normal decibel level works best. (If from Essex, practice with a plum in your mouth.)
The dress code is studied casual. You want to create the impression you’ve come straight from the beach (the real one, not Nikki’s), although it takes hours of meticulous grooming to achieve this informal look.
For ladies, anything goes so long as it’s not polyester, accessorised with gladiator sandals/wedges (killer heels are verboten on the hallowed turf). For men, what else but a polo shirt, shorts if you’ve the legs for them (with leather loafers, never socks) or chinos (raspberry sorbet is this season’s preferred colour). Locks should be stylishly ruffled or topped with a Panama hat, worn at a rakish angle à la Johnny Depp.
Complete your look with a cute dog (on a leash). Four legs are better than two – and not only because the horsey set love animals. P.O.L.O. is also an acronym but I won’t spell it out. This is a family newspaper …