This story first appeared in the Oct. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
The historic Will Rogers Polo Field in Pacific Palisades -- where Walt Disney, Errol Flynn and Darryl F. Zanuck once swung mallets -- again is the site of industry action. On Oct. 6, players will don their jodhpurs for the third Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic (vcpoloclassic.com), hosted by Rachel Zoe and Nacho Figueras, the renowned Argentinian player who's also, natch, the face of Ralph Lauren's Polo Fragrances. The past couple of years have seen the field packed with thousands of spectators for the match, including Ron Burkle, Sofia Vergara and Zoe Saldana, who, like many others, ineffectually stomped divots (clods of kicked-up earth) back into place with her stilettos. The suggested attire for this year's event (which includes a VIP tent) is tied to the famous 1922 Patiala vs. Jodhpur match in India. "It's the perfect excuse to play up the glitz and glamour of the '20s," says Zoe.
The spot was built in 1926 by Rogers as his personal field. (The Western star also constructed his house on the site.) Some die-hard old-time players, including Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable, grumpily were forced to the sidelines rather than suit up because of insurance demands for their movie shoots. "You can feel their ghosts sort of rolling around the place," says Leigh Brecheen, a top entertainment attorney and polo player at the park. Today, the sport's most famous amateur player is Tommy Lee Jones.
In the past few years, Figueras has been working to make polo -- long seen as the sport of kings -- more accessible. (The Veuve matches he hosts in the NYC area have drawn up to 18,000.) L.A. has its dedicated players who are members of the Will Rogers Polo Club, which celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2013. While there once were more than two dozen polo fields in L.A., Will Rogers is the last remaining one. "The big thing to do was to have a box next to a field, like a courtside seat at a Lakers game today," says Randy Young of the Pacific Palisades Historical Society.
Regulars at Will Rogers say that part of the appeal is the fact that no one's impressed by anything but athletic skill. "You could be the greatest producer in the world, and if you can't ride, it doesn't matter," says Playboy photographer Stephen Wayda, who has played for two decades.
For writer Evan Nicholas, the attraction is the adrenaline rush. "I sit in front of my computer every day," he says. "It's this primal thrill to be riding 40 miles an hour on a horse."
Of course, polo -- which originated in Persia as far back as 500 B.C. -- costs dearly. "You can't take it up casually," says veteran Nick Mathers, proprietor of Sunset Strip hotspot Eveleigh. Adds Chip McKenney, COO of Troika Design Group, which handles TV branding: "What's most compelling is that it's this ancient sport."
A polo horse can cost $1,500 a month to maintain -- and you'll need one per chukker (or period of play), meaning at least four per outing. And at the higher levels (like at Santa Barbara's polo club but not at far more down-to-earth Will Rogers) hobbyist players often are expected -- as in competitive yachting -- to pay top professionals to be a part of their team. Explains TV commercials producer and Palisades partisan Barbara Benson, with a laugh, "You better have a trust fund."