Although horses have long been associated with transportation in the Philippines, it was not until the arrival of the Americans that Filipinos learned how to combine a mallet, a helmet, and a good relationship with the powerful animal to enjoy polo.
Dubbed “The Sport of Kings,” polo flourished in Persia (now Iran) during the 16th and 17th century as a training game for royal guards or elite troops in preparation for war. It has then evolved into a national sport that is regularly played by noble men and women, and is recognized as a professional sport that continues to be popular in over 16 countries all over the world.
From Central Asia, the sport made its way to England before reaching the United States, and it was in the early 1900s that polo officially arrived in the Philippines during the American occupation.
To help them adapt to a new country, the Americans of the colonial government began establishing social clubs in the capital, one of which was a polo club.
Governor General William Cameron Forbes, specifically set up the Manila Polo Club in 1909, shortly after his appointment by US President Howard Taft.
Known to be a “true lover of polo,” Forbes is credited for building the very first polo field in the Philippines.
“Polo has been around for more than 100 years. It was started by Gov. W.C. Forbes, after whom Forbes Park was named, and was meant for senior military officers and Filipino elite only,” said polo athlete Freddie Borromeo, who was interviewed by The Sunday Times Magazine when he played at the Paul and Shark Polo Cup this summer.
Since then, it has been the polo patrons—or the elites of society—that have have pushed for the proliferation of the sport, such as members of the Elizalde and Zobel families.
As early as 1937, the Elizalde family set up the Los Tamaraos Polo Club in Parañaque together with other prominent friends.
The Zobels on the other hand have established the Enrique Zobel Memorial Cup as one of oldest local competitions in the Philippines.
“The polo season officially begins with the Past Presidents’ Cup, an elegant affair that lives up to its reputation as the ‘Sport of Kings.’ This is followed by the Governor’s Cup, attended by many of the American expatriate community. And then the season closes with ‘The President’s Cup’ in honor of the incumbent club president,” imparted Manila Polo Club PR and communication assistant, Alpha Silva.
Corporate cups like the Fila Cup and the Paul and Shark Cup are special events that polo players and patrons also enjoy.
Globalport Pilipinas’ playing owner Mikee Romero added, “Polo season in the Philippines begin in January and lasts until March. The period is usually the best time to play because the game is done outdoors and is heavily dependent on good weather.”
As one of the major patrons of the sport, Romero has also staged competitions such as the Romero Cup in 2013 and the Philippine Polo Open that is described as “the biggest game of polo in the Philippines for the past 50 years,” just this year.
“There are about 50 players in the country now, and a few polo fields situated in different areas,” Romero said. Aside from the MPC in Makati City, there are polo fields in Alabang, Bulacan, Cebu, Bacolod, and in Calatagan, Batangas, which he owns and runs.