With a playing area equal to nine football fields, polo is a socially distanced sport. But in a pandemic, the normally very social spectators are an area of concern.
The Oak Brook Polo Club took control of that matter at Sunday’s event at The Prince of Wales Field. The Drake Challenge Club Championship and Women’s Polo Challenge Championship was the fifth event of the season in Oak Brook, and the crowd didn’t seem to mind their limitations, even staying through more than one drastic change in weather.
“It’s a social sport. It’s a social crowd,” said longtime announcer Rob Wilkenson. He has been calling matches for 10 years there. “We are trying to be aware of the social distancing,” he said between matches. “We want and need the revenue, but we don’t want anyone to be in danger (of COVID).”
The venue normally has grandstands where several hundred spectators can watch the eight horses and riders compete for the ball. Due to social distancing orders, only 20% of the full capacity is allowed in this year. The grandstands and the concessions were removed. Instead, fans were asked to park their vehicles along the length of the field on each side. Each space is marked by neat, white picket fencing and separated from its neighbor by 12 to 15 feet.
Fans bring chairs and tables and their own food and drink and leave their individual spaces only to use the restroom.
Between matches a prize of food and wine is awarded to the “best tailgate” decorations. Sunday’s winner had a Hawaiian theme, complete with sand, umbrellas and flower leis.
“In the spirit of the Oak Brook Polo Club, we feel like we are providing a safe and social experience,” Wilkenson said.