Polo might have originated in Iran, but today, it’s closely associated with British and American aristocracies. The sport, which is played on horseback as two teams try to score goals using mallets, is a favorite of the British Royal family, but also of war heroes likes Winston Churchill and George Patton.
Now, an exclusive tranche of China’s society is taking a liking for the sport. In Tianjin, northeastern China, photographer Kevin Frayer stumbled upon the Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club, one of the country’s largest, when he was researching wealth “to try to understand what affluent Chinese were drawn to,” he tells TIME. “I was intrigued by the emergence of polo as a sport and a lifestyle here for the ultra rich.”
Known as the “sport of the kings,” polo has become a serious business for China’s wealthy. “[They] are sparing no expense,” says Frayer. “They have created world-class facilities with top trainers, experienced polo players and exceptional horses.” Of course, mastering polo takes more than just money. “Polo is not a Bentley or a yacht; you need to learn to ride a horse and swing a mallet and hit a ball. So the costs are huge,” the photographer adds.
Frayer, who has spent the last years documenting all strata of China’s society, is used extravagance when it comes to the country’s upper-class, but he was still taken aback by the sheer scale of this polo obsession. “In the middle of a huge city, suddenly there is this massive country-like estate with hundreds of horses and an entire infrastructure around polo,” he says. “It just comes up out of the ground and it is exquisite.”
Kevin Frayer is a photographer working for Getty Images. Follow him on Instagram @kevinfrayer.
Andrew Katz, who edited this photo essay, is an International Multimedia Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @katzandrew.
Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent.