Good grooming isn't just for horses at Clevedon, the spectators have high standards too.

The New Zealand Polo Open must be the only sporting event in the country where you'd find an empty container of hair wax in the dunnies.

Somehow that encapsulates polo: image is everything and no detail is spared in the pursuit of quality.

Fisher Field, nestled in the hills surrounding Clevedon amid gum trees, hosted yesterday's BMW final between Verve Cliquot and Bayleys; champagne triumphed 12 goals to eight over real estate, thanks mainly to the skill of South African import Nachi du Plessis.

For someone who has never ridden a horse the idea of popping along is an annual novelty. Well-heeled ladies and chaps emerge from European vehicles; it's a devil of a job spotting a Holden Kingswood or Ford Cortina. Even a helicopter makes a cameo at play's end. Some patrons pay $25 and head to the picnic area on the hill. Others, who tend to speak using more elongated vowels, sample the hors d'oeuvres and bubbles in a $8125 VIP marquee.


Polo is a bit like rugby sevens. When you get bored you can always watch the chukkas with a helpful commentary team booming through the loud speakers. We learn gems such as a) polo originated in Persia in 600 BC and b) horses can gallop at speeds of up to 50km/h where players hit the 8cm diameter ball, using only their right hand. Terrific pub quiz fodder.

The sight of thoroughbred horses (or "ponies" as they are known in polo-speak), galloping down the field is exhilarating, especially when you add in the hand-eye co-ordination required.

Ponies get swapped at regular intervals. Spare a thought for the grooms beavering away in the background plaiting tails and manning pooper-scoopers while the players revel in the glory.

Observing fashion etiquette appears to be as important as any skill with a polo mallet. Summer dresses and teetering heels are the order of the day for women. Men don the sport's eponymous shirt or slip into something more crisp and bespoke. Straw hats are set at a rakish angle and sunglasses are often of the mirrored variety. For ladies, hemlines generally adhere to the rule of thumb, "must extend beyond the tips of your fingers when held at your sides" but the odd scrap of material masquerading as a belt somehow passes muster. A frenzy of high heels also trot about. You can almost hear Achilles tendons squealing for mercy. A handful of chaps insist on donning white trousers, surely a faux pas when indulging in anything but a spot of cricket.

However, most patrons dress to a standard that would avoid setting off the sirens on Fashion Police.

One disappointment this year was that the traditional treading of divots at halftime was abridged. Technology has intervened. The cunning groundsmen have replaced rye grass with couch, meaning the turf doesn't rip up as much during play. Boo. Still, the legendary after-parties no doubt make up for that minor travesty. That's where the hair wax presumably comes into its own.