St. Ann Polo Club is located in Drax Hall, St. Ann Jamaica. The club is operated by the members of the St. Ann’s Polo Club. In 1892 Sam Burke founded the St. Ann Polo Club, which moved to its present location at Drax Hall Estate in 1905 and boasts one of the oldest polo fields in the world.
The St. Ann Polo Club season start in January and ends at the beginning of August. The club has 14 members. The club members have had the privilege of being under the tutelage of Colonial Prem Singh and John “Doc” Masterton.
In addition to being one of the oldest polo fields in the world and polo matches St. Ann Polo Club in Drax Hall provides a unique venue for birthday parties, weddings, group outings and many other events.
Polo – The Sport
A polo player in fact has to master four or five sports and roll it all up into one. Firstly, they have to be a good rider. The horse is considered to be 75% of the game and being able to maneuver it precisely at top speed is of paramount importance. Secondly, they need the hand/eye coordination and concentration of a tennis player or golfer, the difference being that they are hitting a white ball 3” in diameter, using 4’ 3” long stick with a hitting surface of 8” x 1 1/2” traveling at up to 35 miles per hour. Thirdly, it is a team sport, with a lot of physical contact. There are four people on each team with specific positions and their corresponding responsibilities. Finally, because of the myriad of details involved in the game, the tremendous preparation, organization and strategy needed it is often likened to (believe it or not) chess. It is also acknowledged as one of the top three most dangerous sports alongside motor racing and downhill skiing. As such nearly all the rules in polo are based on safety considerations and, in fact, are similar to driving a car down a two lane highway.
The point of the game is for each team to score as many goals as possible. Each game is divided into between four to six periods of 7 minutes called chukkas, when they change horses. A horse may play more than one period but not consecutively. Sometimes a player may change a horse mid-chukka but the game is not stopped at that time. The player in the # 1 position is the forward of the team whose job it is to attack the goal and/or nullify the “back”. The # 2 runs interference, passing the ball up from the # 3 to the # 1 or clearing a path for the # 3 by taking out the opposing # 2 or # 3. The # 3 is usually the “anchor” of the team and is often the field captain, responsible for setting up the plays and directing the team. The Back (or # 4) is the defensive player of the team, who has to break up the opposite teams attacking plays and clear the ball from his own goal mouth.
As indicated in the above analogy with driving a car the “right-of-way” is determined by the path that the ball travels when hit and players are not allowed to cross that path unless there is a safe distance between themselves and oncoming riders. Players are allowed to hook each other’s sticks and to bump each other with their horses to prevent the opposition from hitting the ball.
A Brief History of Polo in Jamaica
The British Army established polo in Jamaica at the West India Regiment Garrison Club in 1882. Many Clubs have come and gone over the years, such as the St. Elizabeth Polo Club at the foot of Spur Tree, the Blue Hole Polo Club near Lucea, Hanover. However, two have endured for over 100 years. The Kingston Polo Club was formed for civilians in 1886 at Knutsford Park (now New Kingston). It then moved to the middle of the Caymanas Race Track and is now situated on the other side of the Mandela highway just below the Caymanas Golf Club. In 1892 Sam Burke founded the St. Ann Polo Club, which moved to its present location at Drax Hall Estate in 1905 and boasts one of the oldest polo fields in the world. Inter Club competition started in 1898 between Garrison (Up Park Camp), Kingston, St. Ann, St. Catherine and St. Mary Polo Clubs. In 1907, Bertie Verley was killed in the Great Earth Quake and the A.J.P.A. introduced the Senior Cup (that is played for to this day) to replace the Dewar Cup which was also destroyed in the quake. Throughout its history the Island has boasted an average of some 30 to 50 players and anywhere from 2 to 5 Clubs at any given time.
POLO AT ST. ANN POLO CLUB, Drax Hall
St. Ann Polo Club was formed in 1892 at Drax Hall by the late Sam Burke who was a Resident Magistrate in the Parish. However, polo declined in St Ann in 1898 when he left the Parish. Polo moved to Retreat and then Orange Hill before “Teddy” Pratt from England revived the field at Drax Hall in 1905, so that it once again became the centre of polo in the parish of St. Ann. During World War II when Polo shut down world wide Mr. Charles Sylvester Cotter maintained the field and “stick and balled” (rode a horse and knocked a polo ball with a polo mallet) on it regularly to keep the Club and ground alive. The year 2005 marks the Centenary of this historic field which makes it one of the oldest, if not the oldest polo field in the world, on which polo has been continuously played.
Originally it was the plantocracy of the North Coast that frequented the Club, but nowadays it is supported by people from all walks of life from all over the Island. It is famous for its relaxed “country” atmosphere and the great parties that follow highly competitive polo tournaments. In the last decade the Club has been expanded into an Equestrian Centre, catering to the other equestrians not involved in polo. The Club hosts, or has hosted, several visiting teams and players from all over the world, including England, Germany, France, USA, Australia, Zimbabwe, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Barbados. The Club is now the official site of the annual Jamaica Polo Association Tournament, a series of tournaments including the Senior Cup the Islands most prestigious trophy first played for in 1906, and other serious and friendly competitions spread between January and the first week of August each year. Several of the Tournaments are linked with Horse Shows put on by the Equestrian Centre ensuring an action packed day for the entire family. As its reputation has grown, business people and their families from Kingston and Montego Bay look forward to certain functions each year, particularly those held over the holiday weekends as the Club provides a social environment that the entire family can enjoy.
Some Important Milestones
In 1938 Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Louis Mountbatten brought a team from the prestigious Hurlingham Polo Club and 24 horses to visit the Island and play a series of four matches that they won comprehensively. Donald Pringle, Colin Caulder, Leslie Mais and Johnny McPhail, among others, represented Jamaica against them. The visitors were so impressed with two of the Jamaican horses that their team manager, Terry Erving took them back to England to play in the regimental finals. They also donated the Hurlingham Cup that we still play for.
In 1953 E.C. Caulder chalks up a record 27th victory as a member of a Senior Cup team. In 1955 Sir Hugh Foote as Governor was a member of the team that took the Cup back to Kingston.
1961 was the Diamond Jubilee (75th anniversary) of the Kingston Polo Club and the whole KPC team of Stafford and Nigel Nunes, John Masterton and Cecil Langford was selected as the Jamaican team to play against, and beat, the American team led by the 9 goal player George Oliver, and included Freddie Guest, Halter Cunningham and Bob Wixer team from the U.S.A. In 1962 Garrison, Kingston, St. Ann, St. Elizabeth and Hanover Polo Clubs took part in the Independence Tournament, and the Gleaner Company donated the Independence Trophy, for the person that contributes the most to the sport, that is still presented every year.
Admiral of the Fleet Lord Mountbatten returned to Jamaica circa 1960 on an official visit and a match was played in his honour at Caymanas Park.
A Jamaican team visited England in 1957 and got to the finals of the Gold Cup – the most prestigious polo Tournament in England. John Masterton, Robin Stewart, Ellis Edwards played the entire Tournament but Col. Prem Singh and Hanute Singh substituted for Willie deLisser who injured his hand. They were also accompanied by Sir Hugh Foote who played in some of the games.
An official English team of Prince Phillip, The Marquis of Waterford, Lord Patrick Berrisford and Gerrard Leigh came to play in the Commonwealth Games of 1966. Matt Maunder was the reserve for the team and umpired the official matches. He played with Prince Charles, Tinker and his son Tony Rerrie in an unofficial game against Harry Miller, Rudolf Jobson, Gerald McFarlane & Michael Godfrey and won. The team was also accompanied by Princess Anne. The English team played three official matches, 2 against the main Jamaica team of John Masterton, Nigel Nunes, Robin Stewart and Tippy deLisser who won the Final by the handicap of ½ goal, and one in which Harry Miller replaced John Masterton. The matches were played at Up Park Camp and a huge Ball was held in their honour at the Caymanas Country Club. Prince Charles played with Tinker & Tony Rerrie, Matt Maunder against Prince Charles returned in 1973 when he snuck off his boat while it was docked in the Kingston harbour for a few informal games at Caymanas Park.
In order to celebrate the Jamaica Polo Association’s centenary in 1982. Barbados sent up a team with several of their top horses for a series of matches at the Kingston Polo Club and St. Ann Polo Club. They were represented by “Cow” Williams, Stephen Williams, Roddy Davis, Kent Cole, Roger Gooding and Desmond Maynard. Andrew Nunes, John Masterton, Junior Chin and David Braham represented Jamaica in the Final but were comprehensively beaten.
In the same year Major Ronald Feurguson (Fergie’s dad) brought an English team of himself, Mark Barlow, Jim Cunningham and Brian Morrison for a series of matches. They narrowly defeated David Braham, John Masterton, Junior Chin and Harry Miller in the Final.
Today there are several Clubs in the Island that vary in atmosphere and organization, despite having similar facilities. The Kingston Polo Club is nestled at the base of a small hill next to a pretty little church. It has a picturesque, wooden Club House in the centre of the polo field and is a full equestrian centre catering to all types of equestrian sport. The St. Ann Polo Club, situated on the Drax Hall Estate, just past Ocho Rios, is also a full equestrian centre with the Club House between the polo field and show jumping arena. Saturday afternoon polo, with a sumptuous tea, is almost a religion year round at St. Ann. Five miles along the main road, just past Priory, is the Chukka Cove Polo Club that also has good dressage and show jumping arenas adjacent to the polo field. However, they concentrate on polo and trail riding for tourists. There are six lovely villas around a swimming pool between the polo field and the coastline that are a lovely hideaway for weekends and holidays. There is also the Knolford Polo Ranch, near Bog Walk, about 45 minutes outside of Kingston. It is the first commercial polo facility with the field and stables situated in the bend of a river and a 12 room hotel set on the top of a small hill overlooking the rest of the facility.
Polo players are handicapped between -2 (beginners) and 10 goals. The total handicap of a team is the sum of the players’ handicaps and a weaker team will be awarded a head start of the difference in goals between the two teams. There are probably only about 12 10-goal players in the world, most of them coming from Argentina. Only about 10% of the players in the world are rated 3 goals and above and you can count on your fingers the number of amateur players rated over 4 goals in the world.
Jamaica boasts some of the highest amateur polo in the world as none of the players here actually earn a living from playing. All ages take part, some starting as young as 10 years old, others continuing into their 70’s and 80’s, but nearly all are considered “characters” as it is not an easy sport and is not recommended for the fainthearted. The top Jamaican players are rated at either three or four goals and rode from an early age. Many were in fact very successful show jumpers or eventers before catching the polo bug and there is still close cooperation between all equestrian pursuits in Jamaica. Only a handful of Jamaicans have made it to four goals or above including of days past. The late Donald Pringle, Leslie Mais, Colin Caulder, Willie deLisser, Stafford Nunes and his son Nigel are among those from the past that made this vaunted milestone. John Masterton and Harry Miller also got there and are still playing good polo though not at quite the same level.
To the envy of most, Jamaica’s climate allows us to play polo all year round, heavy rains or severe drought being the only problem from time to time. Most of our main Tournaments are held between January and May, starting with the Ladies Tournament in January, followed by visits from our friends trying to escape colder climes, usually from Chicago, Rhode Island and/or England in February. Our local Tournaments take place between March and May, with a visit from a Barbadian team thrown in somewhere. After a break for a couple of weeks informal polo resumes as everyone warms up for the Hi-Pro Family Tournament, sometimes followed by another visit from one of our Central or South American friends. In the latter part of the year fun Tournaments rule, with the Fossil Open for teams adding up to over 200 years and the Doc Masterton where the teams are drawn out of a hat.
Trophies and Tournaments
Some of the Trophies that are currently played for are themselves over 100 years old and carry a tremendous sense of history and prestige. The foremost being the Senior Cup, that replaced the Dewar Cup in 1907. This Tournament is played on an “open” basis (without handicap) between Clubs and was won this year Chukka Cove Polo Club for the … th time. The Junior Cup, donated in 1908 is for the next level of team from each Club. The Handicap version of the Senior Cup is the Hurlingham Cup, donated by Lord Mountbatten in 1938. The Marescaux Cup is a handicapped Tournament for no more that 2 players from each Club. The Keeling Cup, donated in 1936 in honour of Sir A.L. Keeling, is played for on a similar basis. The second major “local” Tournament is the newly formed Jamaica Open in which any Jamaican team with a ceiling of 12 goals can play for the Willie deLisser Trophy. During the summer the Hi-Pro sponsored Family Tournament for teams with at least two members of the same family on each team is probably the most popular tournament on the calendar. There is also a “Juniors” trophy for a match for players in their teens. Jamaica also hosts what is probably the highest goal Ladies polo Tournament in the World. Sponsored by the Insurance Company of the West Indies and Life of Jamaica the top lady players from around the world are invited to play in an exhibition match that have teams of up to 8 or 9 goals.