Hickory Hall Polo Club will kick off its summer-long series of matches benefiting area charities, “Polo at Sunset” this week.

Starting Friday and continuing each week, the club will play host and fundraise each Friday for a different cause. Additionally, two Saturday (noon start) events will be held under the name “Polo on the Prairie” for those who prefer a daytime game.

The sport, which has been quietly present in Boone County for decades, has become a favorite outing for area families. What was traditionally an event of formal attire, stuffed shirts, and stemmed wine glasses, has morphed into a great evening to spend with family, friends, and neighbors.

Some folks do come prepared with tents, fine china, and champagne – just for the fun of living out the polo scenes from the movie “Pretty Woman.” Others pitch a picnic blanket, and stuff a cooler with submarine sandwiches, sodas and beer. Whether you choose cargo shorts and your favorite T-shirt, or a seersucker suit and Kentucky Derby-worthy fascinator hat, you’re guaranteed to fit right in.

On Fridays, gates open at 5 p.m. and play begins at 6:15 p.m. The general admission of $20 per carload keeps the price point of the event within reach of most families. Those attending are always encouraged to bring refreshments and other creature comforts like bug repellent, sunscreen and chairs.

Although there are no onsite concessions, restroom and handwashing facilities are available. However some showcased charities do choose to co-op with local favorites like LA Cafe for their events. During these dates, patrons can order boxed meals ahead of time (but be sure to check the schedule and website).

While checking the website, look for special reserved premium tailgating spots available during select events starting at $250 with room for six guests at a table. Be sure to bring a little cash if you would like to participate in any of the additional side games available. Each charity tends to do something a bit different, but most will have opportunities for guests to take part in raffles, wine pulls, and other fun add-ons.

Families are also always welcome to pay the $20 carload fee at the gate and make your own fun at no additional cost.

Many evenings also feature a low swooping airplane flyover. This special treat is always a big hit with the younger set, since the planes drop candies as they pass at halftime. Adding to the fun is the crowd favorite and time honored practice of the halftime Divot Stomp. All guests are invited onto the field. They then locate any kicked up sod and give it a solid “stomp” to put divots back into their place. Once the playing surface is sufficiently repaired by spectators, the game is set to resume.

If you’re thinking polo is something relatively new to Central Indiana, you may be surprised to know that it was first brought to the area more than 100 years ago. One of the fathers of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Carl Fisher, introduced his friends to the high adrenaline sport on the lawn of his estate along Cold Spring Road (now a part of the Marian University campus).

Today, polo in the metro area is a family affair. The Greg Chandler family now owns and operates Indy Polo as Hickory Hall Polo Club. Greg fell in love with the sport while working at the nearby (now defunct) Rancho Alegre, where the Longwood facility owned by his father Tom in partnership with Fred Stauder was located. That storied ranch, stables, and play field is now just a memory covered over by a subdivision at Zionsville’s north end.

Chandler’s son, Austin, now serves as the club president and sees to the day to day details of the facility, while his wife Shannon and Audra Poe tend to the media and charitable interface duties. Everyone has a day job though – Hickory Hall is a passion project, not a get rich quick scheme.

Those who attend matches this summer will see a variety of participants on mount. Women compete side-by-side with men, and the age range is highschoolers through “seasoned” participants. When asked about the toll this sport takes on backs, Austin Chandler laughed, “It’s not a matter of if you’ll break something, it’s a matter of when and what.”

He knows quite well the hazards of play, having suffered a broken back a few years ago. He points to one of the guys who practically glides from the ground to the saddle with a fluid motion. “He’s been playing for 37 years.”

A total of 19 non-profits will benefit from the Friday and Saturday games this year. Those of particular interest to Boone County residents include the Boys & Girls Club, zWorks, Youth and High School Rugby of Indiana, Progress House by Aspire, Special Olympics, and the season finale on Oct. 2 benefitting the Jacob Pickett Response Organization.

Zionsville based zWorks will again partner with the Boys & Girls Club of Boone County for their event at Hickory Hall this year.

“Last year was very successful with a record turnout,” notes zWorks Executive Director Vickie Hall. Katie Reasoner, who serves as resource director at the B&GCBC, agrees, adding “We look forward to seeing everyone at the polo field in Whitestown for a great evening that supports our missions and our community.”

Hickory Hall has hosted charities for eight years now. Over this time, they’ve helped these worthy causes raise more than $2 million. Last year alone brought in more than $350,000.

For up to date information, to find out where to buy tickets and reserved tailgate spots, or to sign up to take polo lessons, see Hickory Hall’s website at www.IndyPolo.com The club is at 7551 E. 100 N., Whitestown, just a few miles north of Zionsville.

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