LAKEWOOD RANCH -- New improvements to the polo fields at Lakewood Ranch are underway, everything from spreading 3,500 tons of sand over the playing surfaces to installation of the first cash register for the gift shop.
It should make for surer footing for the ponies, truer bounces for the balls, and no more need to hand-write all those gift shop receipts.
Polo season starts Dec. 16 and runs each Sunday through April 7.
In the offseason, crews maintain and improve hundreds of acres of grounds
that provide the playing surface for polo.
Soon after polo season ends, crews break up the top four inches of the field, which can become hardened and pitted by the pounding hooves of polo ponies.
With a heavy roller pulled by a tractor, the field is once again flattened. The process is repeated several times during the off-season.
An extra step was taken this year to craft a top-notch playing surface with the spreading of a mountain of sand, mined by Schroeder-Manatee Ranch just one mile away.
The process of spreading one-half inch of sand over all the playing surfaces requires about 60 tons of sand per acre and is called "top dressing," said Brian Lentz, who is heading up the field improvements.
Irrigation improvements are also being made, including to the north and south sides of the field where fans spread their picnic feasts.
Wednesday, workers were dragging and rolling the field, and installing a centralized irrigation controller. Until now, irrigation has been manually controlled for each field. With the new system, an operator with a smart phone or iPad will be able to direct the flow of irrigation from anywhere.
Also coming is a second water cannon that can disperse 300 gallons of reclaimed water a minute.
Maryellen Paterson, events and promotions manager, was retagging gift shop items Wednesday with new inventory numbers for the cash register. But there will be no bar codes on the gift items.
"We aren't going to be that fancy," Paterson said.
Also planned prior to the opening of the polo season: air conditioning for the gift shop and restrooms, and screening for the pavilion area.
General admission to polo this season will be $12 per person.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 941-745-7021 or tweet @jajones1.