Horsing Around 8-27-2003

In Maui, polo is an excuse for a down-home party

By: Cort Gallup

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 rainbows).

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 people attending.

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.