By Jules Vivas
Images by Noel Pabalate
Video by Roc Verdera
From the genteel atmosphere of the field, lunch in a beauteous marquee, to the auditory backdrop of galloping hooves and the crack of a mallet hitting a ball, polo is truly a sensuous sport.
Widely known as the “Game of Kings,” men and women on horseback swing their sticks in some of the world’s most remarkable milieus. Though the exact origin of the sport is unknown, some believe it began as a simple game played by mounted Iranian nomads in Central Asia, which spread to Iran (Persia back then) and beyond. It is among the oldest sports in the world with a documented history that reaches back 2,500 years, and it is the oldest equestrian sport ever. In the middle ages, polo became a valuable training for cavalry, spreading throughout Constantinople, to Japan, and to Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, its modern-day version is derived from Manipur, India, where the game was called Sagol Kangjei, Kanjai-bazee, or Pulu. But more than a sensual and traditional sport, polo is a connecting bridge. British Prime Minister and lifelong polo enthusiast Sir Winston Churchill once said, “A polo handicap is a passport to the world” so, whether spectators or for players, polo clubs are the perfect reason to travel everywhere. Attracting royalty from all over the globe, grounds and estates that host the exhilarating sport are just as majestic as the guests themselves. Topnotch facilities and jaw-dropping châteaus are the name of the game, and the Philippines is playing.
Practice game between Argentinian and Filipino players during the inauguration
Sportsman and Rep. Mikee Romero, in his earnest love for the sport, had a 30-hectare property transformed into a first-rate polo ground, an emerald meadow nestled in Barrio Lucsuhin, Calatagan, Batangas, the Miguel Romero Polo Field named after his late son.
Sheila and Mikee Romero
As I attended the inauguration of the spectacular field, I was lucky to have viewed the property on air, and what I saw was absolutely breathtaking. After eight meticulous years of development, it was evident that the turf and its equestrian facilities are on par with the best polo fields around the world, the likes of the oldest polo field, the Imphal Polo Ground in Manipur State, one of the best places in the world to watch polo, the Jaipur Riding and Polo Club, the Al Habtoor Polo Resort and Club, where the United Arab Emirates has established itself for its Dubai Polo Gold Cup Series, and the Chantilly Polo Club in the heart of the Château de Chantilly estate, 60 kilometers from Paris.
The congressman, who sustained a back injury from a bad fall during his recent polo training in Argentina, was kind enough to personally tour us around the vicinity.
Rep. Mikee Romero
On the ground, one can easily imagine the scene from Pretty Woman, where women in their Sunday dresses with fancy-feathery hats and men in collared shirts lounged around. Seeing players on their horses dashing back and forth in the 300- yard-long, 160-yard-wide field of Tifton, a Bermuda-and-African perennial grass hybrid strain, reminds one of the super-intense fictional sport Quidditch, roughly based on polo—a fast-paced, adrenaline-fueled sport.
The bamboo pavilion at day
Mikee, chairman of the United Polo Players Association (UPPA), went all out to materialize his desire to host international tournaments in the country in an extraordinary landmark, among them the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, where this year, in games that started at the Iñigo Zobel Polo Facility last week and will continue on at the Miguel Romero Polo Field beginning next week, on Tuesday, Dec. 3, four national teams Brunei, Indonesia, Philippines, and defending champion Malaysia are clashing over two gold medals. Home to some 80 Argentinian horses, the estate is enormous, able to accommodate a thousand people. Amenities include well-ventilated and spacious stables, a quarter-mile exercise track with a scientifically designed surface preventing injuries to the horse’s legs, and gazebos for visitors, Mikee’s trusted in-house Argentinean vet Innes, and some Argentinean players who exercise the horses to keep them in top shape.
Bamboo pavilion interior
All of this in honor of his son Miguel who passed away two years ago. “He should have been the one playing here,” Mikee intimates. “Now, he’s still part of the SEA Games because the whole field is named after him—in his memory.”
The bamboo pavilion at night
Among all these amazing facilities, what Mikee highlighted and really took pride in was the bamboo pavilion built to impress, a statement piece that screams: “the Philippines is ready to host the SEA Games.” Fair enough, it takes something extra, a marvelous structure to house royalties of Malaysia, Brunei, and other rich and powerful people of the region who would go and watch the matches. The pavilion made from various indigenous materials mainly of cogon grass from Batangas for the roof, and giant bamboos from Antipolo for the pillars, were designed by young Filipino architects under the firm Sangay Architecture, Kath Sapungay, Christian Salandanan, and Arvin Diamzon.
The young architects who designed the bamboo pavilion Christian Salandanan, Arvin Diamzon, and Kath Sapungay
The 15-meter pitched ceiling allows good air circulation, with intricate patterns of bamboo beams and woven mats from Ilocos and Abra, all adding up to the building’s elegant and regal vibe. Thirty Indonesian workers were flown in to the country just to erect the structure inspired by Japanese aesthetics. “We wanted to eliminate the idea that bamboo is a poor man’s material,” Diamzon explained their concept and advocacy. “Coming up with a bamboo and Filipino architecture in this modern time, that’s really our path.”
Mikee expressed his deep gratitude to three major stakeholders, the Philippine SEA Games Organizing Committee (Phisgoc), the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC), and the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), for the fulfillment of the dream to stage polo in Southeast Asia’s biggest sporting event.
He should have been the one playing here,’ Mikee intimates. ‘Now, he’s still part of the SEA Games because the whole field is named after him—in his memory.
Filipino polo team members Coco Garcia, Nicole Eusebio, Jam Eusebio, Santi Jovan, Anthony Garcia, Cong. Mikee Romero, and Tonio Veloso
One thing that stuck to me on our way back to the politician’s residence in Manila was his notion of polo being an inclusive sport. “Others embrace the fact that polo is exclusive, only for the rich. As much as possible I want to promote polo as a sport for everyone,” Mikee said.
After all, in Manipur, even commoners who own a pony play the sport.