Less than an hour south of tech-savvy downtown Seattle lies the Seattle Polo & Equestrian Center in the quaint town of Enumclaw, Washington. Known simply as “The Claw” by locals, it is also branded nationwide as “The Gateway to Mount Rainier.” The last town you pass before heading to the majestic Mount Rainier, the highest mountain in the state, it is also home to a budding club determined to grow the sport and centralize polo in the Pacific Northwest Circuit.
“I bought the property six years ago,” said club founder and owner Cameron Smith. “Originally I was looking for property to put a stick-and-ball field in, so I could work my horses.” The stick-and-ball field idea quickly expanded when Smith stumbled across an equine facility in foreclosure that included two massive barns with upwards of 50 combined stalls, complete with adequate space for a field.
“I bought the property and tried to borrow money from the bank to build the field. The quote from the excavation company was around a couple hundred thousand and the bank just laughed,” said Smith. Necessity breeds ingenuity however, and Smith convinced the bank to loan him capital for excavating equipment instead. Not your average DIY project, he began to accumulate the necessary machinery. “I bought a big D8 Bulldozer, I bought an excavator, a dump truck, a skidsteer, a huge front loader and then still ended up using money renting another dozer or two—there was so much dirt work! Literally, for two summers I sat on that dozer and graded the field before we seeded it.”
More than just a location to play the sport, Smith sought to emulate Southern California clubs he competes at during the harsh Washington winters. “I play in Palm Springs, California, all winter and there is nowhere in Seattle that is anything close to it. If you’re playing 4-goal or 8-goal in the desert you will be thrown on Field 1 at some point in front of a big crowd. There was not a venue built for spectators or for promoting the sport in my area,” recounted Smith.
Historically, Pacific Northwest players have always been lauded for their camaraderie, routinely traveling to nearby clubs in order to combine forces and play competitive tournaments. “It is not always easy to have enough players at each club,” said Pacific Northwest Circuit Governor Sheryl Sick. “That’s how the Northwest has always been, everyone has been reciprocal going to each other’s clubs.” Yet, Smith asserts that this culture has derived more from necessity than a penchant for adventure. “There aren’t enough players in the Northwest that we can just stay home and play,” says Smith. Seattle Polo & Equestrian Club is determined to address this issue. “If I can build a club that has enough players coming in, then you don’t have to travel unless you really want to.”
Exemplifying the modern polo club owner, Smith has worked tirelessly over the past few years, establishing a polo school and successfully launching an exhibition polo event dubbed the Seattle Polo Party. “Players in the Northwest are accustomed to just going to a small ranch, playing and then going home,” says Smith, “They don’t ever get the opportunity to play in front of a crowd.” Held annually at the beginning of August, the event has grown steadily in the last two years with over 1,000 spectators projected for 2017. A fashion show, ladies hat parade, VIP tent with lounge and catered buffet lunch, plus vendors, lawn games and a beer and wine garden—it’s no wonder the event has rapidly gained momentum. Mount Rainier presides over the affair, offering a spectacular view and the perfect backdrop for the quintessential Instagram worthy polo shot.
“Trying to build a club and sustain it with existing polo players doesn’t seem very feasible to me, unless you’re in an area rich with polo players,” asserts Smith. “For me, I have to generate revenue to support the club by doing events or bringing people into the sport through the polo school.” Thus, the Polo Party also serves as a means to garner the attention of new talent.
Seattle Polo Club’s season runs from June through September and in stark contrast to Washington’s winters, the summer climate is nothing short of extraordinary. “In comparison to some other places, we get on average 85-degree days. We have zero humidity, we don’t have bugs, we don’t have mosquitos, it’s a nice place to be in the summertime,” Sick emphasizes. And while locals are the target pool of potential members, Smith strives to develop Seattle Polo as a premier summer destination. Seasonal members already hail from California, Texas and Canada who take advantage full advantage of turn-key polo accommodations. “If you’re a minus one or a zero and you want to get better, then this is a great environment. You can come, we have pros that are coaching type pros that are here because they want to promote polo and they want to teach people. Play good polo, get better and have fun—that’s the environment that I’m trying to build.”
The club recently hosted the Pacific Northwest Governor’s Cup boasting 13 teams in four leagues—so his vision is panning out slowly but surely. While Smith admits that building a club from scratch is no easy feat, his efforts at reinvigorating the sport in his circuit are inspiring. The golden era of polo may have flaunted a build-the-field-and-they-will-come attitude, but Smith recognized the changing polo climate and has worked diligently to mold his region. Dedicated to a sustainable future for polo in Enumclaw, Seattle Polo & Equestrian Club has invested wisely in its future. “It’s a lot of work—but everything is a lot of work, right?” Smith said with a smile.
For more information visit seattlepoloclub.com and to purchase tickets to the Seattle Polo Party click here. For up-to-date schedules of tournaments and public matches, “Like” Seattle Polo & Equestrian Center on Facebook and follow them on Instagram (@seattlepoloparty) and Twitter (@seattlepoloclub).