Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Polo: Tommy Lee Jones' passion on display

Actor Tommy Lee Jones has in recent years indulged his passion for polo. Photo / Getty
Actor Tommy Lee Jones has in recent years indulged his passion for polo. Photo / Getty

These days Tommy Lee Jones talks about his acting career interrupting his passion for polo.

His competitive streak surges to new levels when he finishes a summer shift on his Texas ranch, at his Palm Beach property or Buenos Aires equestrian centre and settles into a few hours of polo.

"It's the competition, the people and the experiences, and once you've discovered that world, it's difficult to let it go," he says.

Jones has the coin to indulge his passion for polo which has graced fields in New Zealand for more than 125 years. On Sunday at Clevedon, the NZ Open will be staged with three matches involving overseas professionals mingled around a variety of social events.

It's an interactive sport where the public will be invited onto the ground at halftime to tread down the divots kicked up by the horses. Four players in each team play four chukkas and at the highest level, competitors will sometimes change their horse after each chukka although most like to double their best ponies.

Players have a handicap expressed as goals with the best players on the planet-about two dozen of them-rated as 10-goal competitors while they all play on a field which is 274m long and 200m wide.

There are two forwards in each side, a central controller and a defender whose actions are monitored by two umpires as the ponies reach 55kph and the ball whizzes around the turf up to 160kph.

John-Paul Clarkin is New Zealand's top-rated player with an eight goal handicap and the 37-year-old spends much of the year playing in Australia, England, Argentina and South Africa. He's won the Open eight times and like any top-line sportsman makes the difficult plays look comfortable.

His cousin Thomas Hunt has a six goal handicap and the calm family characteristics which brought him three NZ titles before he was 25.

Second-rated Kiwi Tommy Wilson has reduced his playing schedule to Trans-Tasman tournaments so he has more time to concentrate on his polo pony breeding programme in the Waikato.

- NZ Herald

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