Indian entrepreneur has amassed wealth of polo experience by playing the best in Argentina – and has been well rewarded in his current handicap.
Satinder Garcha is “holidaying with the family in Jaipur” when your correspondent catches up with the Indian-born dot com entrepreneur, now a luxury property developer and purveyor of boutique hotels, who is based in Singapore.
Garcha has just spent two months in Argentina and has been elevated to 3 goals in handicap (10 being the highest in polo). And as highly-respected professional Rodrigo Andrade told Garcha when they were playing together – no more ‘patron’ boots.
All the more remarkable is that last year he had a serious head injury and had nine hours of surgery in Morocco. Just over 18 months after his accident he was back playing the Camara de Diputados in Argentina.
Garcha held his own playing amongst professionals, and his game continues to improve. Not bad for a 44-year-old who took up the sport 13 years ago. He played in England for a couple of seasons, but feels his game improves most by investing “two to three months a year” playing in Argentina.
It helped, no doubt, that his father, Kuldeep Singh Garcha, is a notable former polo player in India. He had a handicap of five goals and captained and coached the Indian polo team for several years. He joined the Indian army and, in 1966, was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant into the 61st Cavalry. The love of the game from Colonel Garcha has rubbed off on his son Satinder.
Together they set up the Jaipur Riding and Polo Club on the outskirts of Jaipur, and the burgeoning player keeps polo pony set-ups in India, Singapore, and Argentina.
“I have 45 to 50 playing ponies, primarily between Argentina, India and Singapore, where I play a lot, too. I have a set up in India, my father manages some of it, in Argentina I don’t own a set up but we rent stuff. In Singapore, there is a lovely club in the heart of the city with a bunch of very good fun tournaments. I chose between England and Argentina, where I can play more intensively.”
The highlights, says Garcha, are landmarks in his career. “In recent years, I won the Copa Presidente, the biggest 20 goal tournament in Argentina, with 60 to 70 teams. We won that knockout competition which meant winning six or seven games in a row to take it. That is right up there.”
Then there was the day that Andrade turned to him. “We played the Ellerstina Gold Cup together in Argentina. I play No 1 and Rodrigo is a strong, disciplined player and he made me work hard for the team.
“He was 9 goals, ruthless, brutal even, and all about the plan. It was very refreshing. ‘Now you are playing 3 goals there is no patron bulls***’ and so I learnt a lot about the sport – and not having the ball, but playing hard off the ball. I scored one goal a game in that tournament but I learnt so much more about the game. Rodrigo is one of the players I really respect, but there are so many good players in this sport,” the first patron from India to play the Camara De Diputados says.
Garcha has work responsibilities with huge projects on the rise. He has invested $250 million in the past few years buying heritage properties and converting them into up-market hotels in Singapore and Santiago, as ‘Garcha Hotels’.
His Hotel Vagabond, converted from a building of 1950 vintage, is due to open in Singapore in January. No polo theme, he tells me, but other hotels may do so, given his interest in Latin America and well as South East Asia.
So where does this uber-successful businessman get his drive for the game? “Perhaps I got that from my father. He was the captain of the Indian team for a few years,” Garcha says.
“But I didn’t play at a young age. When I was eight, I went to boarding school in the north of India in the mountains, at an English ex-British era Military boarding school. There was no flat land to play polo. Then I didn’t play much, and in the summer back home, it was too hot because it was 40 degrees.”
“I started rather late in life, at the age of 31, when I moved to Singapore. Very late in life, some might say. I went to America to study and polo was not accessible to me. I made some money and I thought I want to get started on this. I don’t know if it’s the right, if wrong way round, but growing up my father always told me it was a great game and he had played it all his life. He said it would be worth it as you can afford it.”
So, aged 31, he set out to be a decent player. “I started from scratch. but I invested a lot of time and energy getting to a certain level, with Dad having played for India and having been a 5 goal player. I’m three goals now which is fairly high for a patron, even now I play the high goal season in Argentina.
“As far as patrons go I take it fairly seriously, I like to play well and I just went up to 3 goals over in Argentina.
“One has to be fit, and it all boils down to the level one is playing at and the handicap. It’s do-able, a lot of 3 goal players I’m playing against are pros, so I’m taking it seriously when I play.”
How does it feel to be one of highest ranked patrons in the world? “There are a few patrons up there, but the lines get a little blurry, some of these guys play like pros with patrons like the Hanburys from England, the Alegria guys, the Mannixes.”
Polo provides an antidote, explains Garcha, to being ultra-busy with business. “Polo is that in my case – although I’m limited. I only focus on the Argentine season, three months a year, and a little in India. Polo keeps me going, I can safely say.
Satinder Garcha plays Singapore’s property market and polo with equal zeal. http://t.co/I8j61B4d by @neerjajetley
— Forbes Asia (@ForbesAsia) July 26, 2012
“It’s a de-stressing process when you play polo. All your focus and concentration is on the game, the strategy and playing well. It’s a completely parallel world to business which is very healthy. After a game, business is the last thing on my mind. It’s a very positive influence.”
How competitive did he need to be to get to 3 goals in Argentina? “That’s a tough question. I’m very competitive, almost too competitive,” he says. “I’m not a bad loser, but I’m not a big fan of losing. A friend made a jab at me he said I just ‘play for fun, you take it too seriously’. I play for fun too, I told him, but it’s a lot more fun to win…It’s politically correct to say to play for fun, but I think you should give it all you’ve got.
“Maybe it’s from my military lineage and my boarding school, the Lawrence School, Sanawar, which may have given me a tough outlook.
“Life was about getting up at five in the morning every day and going for a run — wet or cold, windy or balmy. It’s just when I look at it, I think when I do something, I’d better make sure I’m worth my salt. I guess I try to push myself as much as I can.”
From amassing his fortune in Silicon Valley with a dot com business, to becoming a polo player and a property developer in Singapore, it has been some ride for Garcha. Long may that continue.