Date: Friday, December 17, 2021
Take a journey to 1992, a heady year with change in the air. The Winter and Summer Olympics loomed large, (it would be the last time both games were held in the same year), silicon valley giants were rolling out revolutionary technological changes as the 'world wide web' (aka the internet) prepared to go public, social unrest reached a new peak in the US, the cold war was officially declared over, the EU opened its horizons to the rest of the continent, pop artists were wearing clothes backwards, and US presidential power was about to change sides. Thus was the year that ushered in the Newport International Polo Series, bearing a striking resemblance to this 30th anniversary season.
From the inaugural season of the Newport International Polo Series, Dan Keating became a collector of national flags, and Ebeneezer Flag Co.’s best customer. That season, Keating would purchase 7 oversized, custom-made national flags, with the intention of displaying the standards of the home and respective visiting team competing each Saturday over the course of the Polo Series' first summer.
He learned official flag etiquette from the U.S. Flag Code, including that the American flag be raised higher than any other on display, and always on the left of the secondary flag, and so on. Unnoticeable from the marquee tent across the pitch, the two flag poles installed at centerfield were a boat mast and a street light post, satisfying the purpose that year without a second thought.
Come December at the close of that successful first year, Keating was deep into the expansion of the Polo Series to 12 matches, June through August, with letters of invitation dispatched to the governing bodies of polo in a dozen different polo playing countries, from nearly 80 to choose from around the world. These overtures have become a part of the Polo Office's holiday outreach every December since. In response, respective national polo associations assemble a 4-player team, outfit them with a kit of team gear, and send them to Newport, to exercise their passport to the world, as Winston Churchill aptly likened a polo handicap.
Keating’s marketing efforts that year had landed a multi-year sponsorship with Continental Airlines, which would incentivize the invitations with round trip airfare, on top of the hospitality that Newport is renowned for.
Filling the schedule never took long, for an offer seemingly too good to be true, and as each season played out, the wait list grew longer, and before long a colonnade of international flags expanded along the south perimeter of the polo field. For the 20th anniversary season in 2011, Keating bumped up the flag dimensions to the maximum size that is safe in the wind load on the poles. Each flag is made to order, and displayed according to the year it made its debut.
Behind the scenes, when the international teams are in Newport, hospitality is of the utmost importance. They receive lodging, ground transportation and vehicle, daily and nightly entertainment, and are loaned horses to play polo during the week and for the Saturday match.
Newport’s finest hotels continue a tradition of graciously receiving the international teams, along with Newport's best private hosts who open their homes to greet some of the most interesting and courteous world travelers to come to Newport. Teams have included world champions, royals and aristocrats, business tycoons, the best male and female players from their countries, and other carefully chosen ambassadors of the sport and of their respective nations.
Other hospitality comes in the form of entertainment. A visit is not complete without a team dinner and dancing at the venerable Clarke Cooke House on the eve of the match. Days are spent exploring Newport’s legendary attractions, as the excitement of these international VIPs opens many doors of promotional partners that provide extraordinary adventure and experiences, from helicopter tours, tennis on the grass courts of the Tennis Hall of Fame, chauffeured Jaguar Tours, surfing and paddle boarding, vineyard lunch tours, mansion and museum tours, and invitations to many special concurring events during Newport’s high season.
The tradition of loaning horses is a special gesture, not typical in other polo clubs throughout the world. A player’s skill is largely dependent upon their prized string, for which a player may have invested top dollar, and traveled numerous times over months or years in search of the right horses.
The international teams show their gratitude by selecting a Best Playing Pony from those loaned to them. Newport Polo’s perpetual blanket of Best Playing Ponies bearing the names of past winners is displayed during the Trophy Presentation at every international match, to blanket the standout horse named on each occasion. The players on the visiting teams receive a unique, specially designed commemorative gift each season for their trophy shelves. A perpetual silver Liberty bowl trophy is minted upon the debut, engraved with names, and used at each rematch. Often, the team shirts become the most prized host gift and cherished momento, worn years later at polo social events to recall the battle that unfolded, and the characters that became part of the extended family.
The good will of international competition creates opportunities for cultural and ideological exchange, and long-standing close friendships, epic stories, polo history, horsemanship & training practices, and more polo. Meet & Greets are organized each season at choice Newport destinations, while Après Polo celebrations and the annual International Polo Charity Ball are characterized by cultural influences of music and danse, dress, culinary and beverage traditions. Fans embrace these occasions with gusto, often celebrating at their picnics with flags, decorations, international foods and drinks.
While it is never the intention, since most polo clubs are not organized to host visiting teams, reciprocal invitations have led Keating to captain USA teams in Ireland, England, France, Egypt, Chile, Ghana and Jamaica, and join sides with rivals in Spain, Barbados, Morocco, and Nigeria.
After 30 seasons, visiting teams from 35 nations have participated in the Polo Series. The two flagpoles at centerfield still bear the flags of the next international match (except for the final matches of the season, when we display the flags of USA and England in honor of the Westchester Cup heritage of Newport). The other flag poles bear the flags of nations in the order in which they first participated in the Newport International Polo Series: Ireland, Germany, Spain, England, Argentina, France, Egypt, India, Australia, Costa Rica, Ghana, Canada, Chile, Jamaica, Nigeria, Portugal, New Zealand, Barbados, Scotland, South Africa, Hungary, Dominican Republic, Netherlands, Kenya, Brazil, China, Italy, Mexico, Sweden, Singapore, Monaco, Morocco, Peru, Poland and Switzerland. The next season's lineup has, in recent years included fan input from a poll, is finalized each December, including national debuts and gala guests of honor, and announced to great fanfare upon the Box Office opening.
Time Machine is a 30th Anniversary retrospective anthology of monthly chapters. We hope you enjoyed the trip in time to the Polo Series origins in 1992, our inaugural year, and how lasting traditions came to be. To read additional Time Machine chapters published this year, visit Headlines.