MAKAWAO, Maui “Are you going to polo?”
On Maui, the question does not involve fancy afternoon wear, a
pair of dress shoes suitable for divot stomping and a violin
concerto after the match. In Maui it means party time slipping on
flip-flops or cowboy boots, filling the cooler, grabbing lawn
chairs and enjoying a great Maui rock band after the match.
In the rest of the world, polo is the epitome of an elitist
sport, with only 4,000 polo players worldwide. But in Maui there is
no need to be accepted into society’s upper crust to enjoy the
competition, locals and visitors alike are welcome and admission is
only $5, a reasonable price considering it includes a barbecue.
Historically, Maui has been no slouch in polo. In the early
1950s, Maui established itself in polo by having the best team in
the country a team made up of local paniolo (Hawaiian cowboys).
Maui Polo’s traditional post-game party began as early as the
1930s. One story tells of none other than (at that time) Major
George S. Patton who is said to have attended a party at the nearby
Ulupalakua Ranch after a match and created a commotion by doing
shots of whiskey while standing on his head.
The Maui Polo facility is in a beautiful setting, about halfway
up the slopes of Haleakala. Spectators have a panoramic view of the
ocean and the West Maui mountains as a backdrop. And it is right on
the border between Maui’s wet zone and arid zone, providing just
enough rain to keep everything green (and to create huge
The closest community is the rustic paniolo town of Makawao,
about a five-minute drive from the polo grounds. Makawao (see Page
34) is famous for its July Fourth weekend rodeo and parade. There
are virtually no hotels in Makawao, or the surrounding area for
that matter, but resorts in Kihei are only a half-hour drive away,
with the Westside resorts about an hour away.
The Maui Polo season (arena) is in April, May and June, and
again (field) in September, October and November. Most games are
Sunday at 2 p.m. and end about 4 p.m., but the party can sometimes
go late into the night. The crowds are a cross section of Maui with
paniolo, surfers, professionals, the wealthy and Maui’s working
These people make up the polo teams as well. In fact, if clients
have never played polo before and would like to try, organizers say
they can pay the $300 yearly membership dues (a good deal
considering other polo clubs in the U.S. can have dues anywhere
from $5,000 to $10,000) and give it a try. Of course, they would
also have to be able to ride a horse at the same level that a pro
hockey player can skate.
In case clients were wondering, they also can bring their own
horses if they like. Two years ago billionaire Tom Barrack shipped
17 horses to Maui for the entire season. Barrack would fly in
Saturday evenings, play Sunday and then fly out Sunday evening ...
after the party, of course.
Cort Gallup is a reporter for the Maui Weekly.