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Polo in Potomac Park
Polo beside the Tidal Basin
Sunday in the park with Georgetown's polo players
By Theodore Fischer, Washington Sidewalk

Just before teatime on Sundays from June through September, the Georgetown University Polo Club hosts matches at the polo grounds in West Potomac Park. With the Washington Monument a backdrop to the east goal, the Potomac River behind the west goal and presidential helicopters buzzing overhead, it is an incongruously democratic and uncommonly charming place to witness this graceful partnership between rider and steed.

"Horse hockey" is a characterization of polo that might not be appreciated by its devotees but isn't entirely inaccurate. It's a sport only jet-setters can afford to play but that anybody can easily follow. Polo involves teams of four riders who use long mallets in an attempt to drive a small white ball between two posts on opposite ends of the largest field in use by any sport (300 by 160 yards, the equivalent of nine football fields). For a detailed description of the game plus information on player assignments, penalties and strategy, click here.

Matches at Potomac Park begin at 3 p.m., weather permitting, and consist of four seven-minute periods, or "chukkers." Polo has no timeouts except for injury, penalties or dangerous situations, but intermissions between chukkers, lasting long enough for players to change horses, extend matches to well over an hour. About half the players in both the Georgetown University Polo Club (301-983-5228) and competing clubs from near and fairly far are women. An announcer describes the action play by play as it moves between the "river end" and "monument end" of the field. At half time, he invites spectators onto the field to "stomp the divots" replace the turf displaced by charging steeds.

It's easy to tell the difference between the two distinct species of spectator that turn up for Potomac Park matches: passersby and polo fans. Passersby are empty-handed, while polo fans arrive with blankets, lawn chairs, binoculars (absolutely essential) and elaborate picnics. Polo fans know that, unlike their counterparts at other polo venues we've heard about, they won't get a Pimm's Cup or champagne and strawberries or any concessions whatsoever at Potomac Park. They also know that the only seating is the soft grass under a shady willow tree. But nobody can beat the price: Admission is free.

The Potomac Park polo grounds are located alongside Independence Avenue between Ohio Drive and the Tidal Basin. Street parking is free but scarce not because of polo so much as the nearby Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (left) and bar-league softball games. If you can't find a space on Ohio Drive, continue under the 14th Street Bridge to the free lot behind the Cuban Friendship Urn, a thank-you card to the United States for helping Cuba win its independence from Spain. You'll have to take our word for that unless you speak Spanish since the inscription bears nary a word of English.

See also: Tidal Basin circle cruise

Theodore Fischer, 1801 August Drive, Silver Spring, MD 20902, Tel: 301-593-9797, Fax: 301-593-9798, email: tfischer11@hotmail.com