By Andrés Ugarte Larraín
From his humility you would never guess that Alejandro Battro is, and has been for the past thirty-five years, the leading man when it comes to constructing polo fields around the world, and subsequently, one of the most important people in polo.
“I am an Agricultural Engineer and I started working in polo thanks to a proposal from some friends who took care of golf courses in the ’80s,” Battro tells PoloLine. “My first job was on the San Isidro racecourse and I was approached about some polo fields. I had no idea about what I had to do, but that’s how I started. I had never seen nor played polo, and I didn’t really know what I was doing. But we made some improvements using fertilisers. When Marcos Uranga became President of the AAP he asked me if I wanted to help him at Palermo. I was a bit of a risk taker and I agreed. That was really when my relationship with polo began, and today it’s an insatiable passion.”
When did you feel like you had mastered the subject?
I don’t ever feel fully competent; one continues learning all the time. When you don’t know where you want to get to, you’re not going to know what you have to do. And I had no clue what to do with a polo field. The only way to learn was to watch practices and games and see what happened. With a bit of common sense, and a thousand bumps in the road, I slowly began to learn the technicalities of improving a field.
In what ways have polo fields evolved from when you started working to the present day?
I made an error when I started working, and that was trying to improve the grass. After a long time I realised that I didn’t just have to improve the grass, but also the ground, which is much more important than grass when it comes to polo. You can have great grass, but you can’t play polo if the ground is bad, and vice versa. But I had many pitfalls before I realised that. It was not easy to understand the effects of checking a horse, grip, and things like that.
Is there a place that you remember being particularly difficult when it came to constructing a polo field?
There are no difficult places to set up a polo field. I am always motivated by adrenaline and challenges. I would rather construct a polo field in the Himalayas than in the Argentine Pampas, because it is more of a challenge. It is true that today’s fields are safer, the play is better and play continues even when it has rained. There are good and bad fields all around the world; I don’t know which is the best field or which I prefer. There are 10-goal fields in many places; Palermo’s number one ground lives up to its name, for example.
What is the objective when you begin to construct a polo ground?
Sometimes you begin with pure rock, swamps, in the mountains – you name it. The aim is always to make a ground that is safe to play on, that keeps its form as much as possible, that the ball run as smoothly as possible, that the ground recover fast and that it can be played on when it rains, to mention a few. I’m generally asked to construct the best field in the world.
Despite having worked on over 700 polo fields around the world, Battro does not like to highlight any club or country in particular. But he does talk about a recurring and important subject when it comes to polo: “Tifton is not a type of grass that exists in nature; it is man made and created with the aim of constructing more resistant sporting grounds. It was introduced in Argentina a while back. Nowadays, hotter countries or countries with a climate similar to Argentina generally use tifton. Like everything, it has pros and cons, but I think that the pros outweigh the cons. It is more resistant, come winter time it grows quicker… there are many advantages. Considering the amount of polo that is played, I doubt we would have had a great result with normal scutch grass.”
Is tifton the best possible type of grass for a polo field?
There are many different types of tifton. New grass continues to be made; we have not reached the best possible version, there are new types of grass that are more resistant which we have to try out. Tifton has been a big step forward. But the key is not the grass, it’s thinking about the sport that takes place on the grass. What I have noticed, especially abroad, is that too much importance is given to how the grass looks and not to what sport is played on the grass.
How does it make you feel to think that the name ‘Battro’ has become synonymous with the best polo fields in the world?
I have made my contribution, but there are many people who have contributed along the way. I have never believed that great things happen because of one person alone. The group of people that help me are all professionals and help in every way possible, in the technical part, the humane part, everything. Team work is key. The Battro name came about thanks to everyone who put up with my mistakes over the past thirty-five years, because they allowed me to continue. If I hadn’t had support from all the players and club managers when I made a mistake, my career would have lasted two years. I did my bit, but we are still here thanks to all those put up with my errors.
What are your expectations for the season in the Dominican Republic?
I’ve been travelling there for a year and a half and we have made two new fields. They are over rocks; we had to excavate, add sand, and bring grass from the US. They are fields which can resist a lot of rain. They are already being used for practices. It rained 150 mm the other day, but we could have easily played polo when it stopped. It’s a really beautiful area with good climate. The fields are going to be good. We’ve now started on two other clubs and will continue to improve.
What can you tell us about the changes being made in Pilar on the AAP grounds?
We are building four new fields and moving a lot of ground – over 100.000 m3 on uneven surface. They should be ready in April, if everything goes to plan. But we always have to prepare for the unexpected. We have to lower the ground by almost two meters in some places and fill ground in others. It will be extraordinary; it will have access to the motorway and will be totally unique. There will be a total of twelve fields. It’s going to be great. It’s been a fantastic project. It’s not just about the field for me, but about the whole polo world