Polo 'for the people' gearing up for 22nd season

rdymond@bradenton.comDecember 24, 2012 

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- If you live in New York City, as Morgan Holland does, and have never seen a live polo match, you'll probably have to journey roughly 90 miles to The Hamptons.

"If you can get access," Holland added.

But on a warm, sunny Sunday in Lakewood Ranch, all Holland and her extended family needed to have a complete polo experience was to drive a few miles to the Sarasota Polo Club's north side general admission section, pay $12 a person, back their vehicles near the field and unpack a picnic lunch and chairs to watch a game.

Within 20 minutes, Morgan was nibbling on homemade salsa, wasabi deviled eggs and hot Reuben dip made by herstepdad, Rick Askerud, and other family chefs.

Soon, she was toasting the sport with a beverage in a red plastic cup with her mom, Kelly Askerud of Greenbrook.

"This is polo for the people," said Holland, an on-line advertising executive.

"It's like a college football game, but it's tailgating on grass, not at a stadium," said Brian Kelly, Morgan's uncle, who was sitting nearby.

Brian's Kelly's wife, Carolyn; his daughter, Katie,24, who had come in from Chicago; Morgan's boyfriend, Scott Schnepper, 28, ofNew York City; and Morgan's sister, Mackenzie Holland, completed the eight-person party.

"It's much faster than I expected," Morgan Holland of her first polo match. "It's also a quite high-scoring game."

"I was surprised at how few players are actually out there," Brian Kelly said.

"And it surprised me when they substituted the tired horses," Morgan Holland added.

Roughly 800 were on hand for the exhibition witnessed by the Holland family Sunday and they saw Hillcroft take an 11-8 victory over the Wildcats.

The high-scorer for the winners was Josh Shelton, with four goals.

The exhibition season ends with another 1 p.m. match next Sunday and the 22nd regular season begins the following Sunday, said Rebecca Gutierrez, polo operations manager.

"When American football is over for the year our attendance grows," said Gutierrez who calculates last year's top single attendance

as 2,000-plus.

New this year is an electronic scoreboard, the first ever north side vendors selling food, and two wooden horses, named Woody and Splinter, that kids can sit on during halftime to see what it is like to strike a polo ball with a mallet.

A team of Clydesdale horses pulled a wagon that provided rides for spectators duringhalftime.

Jessica Cain and Jennifer O'Connor joined younger kids on the ride.

"It has bells," Cain said with a look that said, 'Need we say more."

Adding to the picnic flavor of the day were people playing bocce, throwing Frisbees and even playing croquet during halftime.

The prize for the "Goofiest Holiday Outfit" went to Katie Kelly, who wore a candy cane sweatshirt.

"I actually bought it in an ugly Christmas sweater store," Katie Kelly said.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be contacted at 941-748-0411, ext. 6686, or tweet @RichardDymond.

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