Slowly turning its back on society and gaining favor with just ordinary rich people, polo is now being played in places where it was never even heard of in the plush days of Meadow Brook and Lake Forest, Aurora and Midwick. One of its newest and most stunning settings is Palm Springs, Calif. (opposite), where Ted Pierce of the Pomona Red Diamonds (left) and Jack Cook of the Scottsdale, Ariz, team are shown in close pursuit of the ball, and where (overleaf) foreign teams often visit for matches with the local Eldorado club.
The way they play at Eldorado is fairly representative of polo's unpretentious new grass-roots flavor all across the country. A man can get through a thoroughly satisfying afternoon at the sport with only three fit ponies, although he really ought to have a couple extra in the barn just in case a horse or two might not be feeling up to snuff. The best ponies, usually Thoroughbreds that didn't quite earn their diplomas at the racetrack, can cost as much as $5,000, but for the average Sunday low-goal polo at Eldorado a perfectly adequate mount can be had in the $750 to $1,500 price range and can be boarded at the club stable for $80 a month.
The men who play at Eldorado are representative of the business aristocracy that has taken over the game. Gone forever, apparently, are the high-goal Wall Street brokers and lawyers and dilettantes who once lent the game their prestige. The new breed is made up of contractors and builders like L. C. (Laurie) Smith of San Mateo, realtors and mortgagors like Willis Allen of La Jolla, builders and developers like Peter Hitchcock of Sausalito (no relation to Meadow Brook's unforgettable Tommy) and veterinarians like Dr. Billy Linfoot, a nine-goaler from Santa Barbara. There is also the occasional Old Family member, like 72-year-old Will Tevis, who carries one of California's earliest blue ribbon names.
A typical Eldorado member arrives at the Palm Springs airport in his private (or company) plane on Friday evening or Saturday morning most winter weekends and drives the dozen or so miles east along Highway 111 to Palm Desert. If he doesn't own a house in the neighborhood, he and his wife can stay in one of the six bedrooms in the yellow stucco clubhouse that stands like a command post at the end of the three polo fields. There will always be a practice game on Saturday afternoon, and on Sunday there will be two complete six-chukker games if enough players for four teams show up. If there are only 12 players, they will play a three-way round robin, each team going three chukkers against the other two.
Now that polo is no longer pursued for its social prestige it is a genuinely participant sport—and one of the most demanding. Hitting a ball with a mallet on the end of a willowy five-foot shaft while traveling at 25 or 30 miles an hour on a half-ton animal is not a recreation for faint hearts and frail bodies. In the great days of the 1930s when Tommy Hitchcock, Cecil Smith and Captain Pat Roark of Ireland were in their 10-goal primes, crowds of 40,000 would pay scalpers' prices to watch it on Long Island. Today's games at Eldorado and at all but a couple of the other clubs across the nation aspire to no such perfection and excitement. Nonetheless many a motorist tooling along Highway 111 has seen the sign "Polo Today" and driven down a dusty road through the date groves to see what was going on—and enjoyed the fun.