During the height of the season, as many as 5,000 fans will turn out on any given Sunday at the Sarasota Polo Club.
Some will even come for the polo. Others will come for the tailgating – the spirited contest of drink, food and costumes.
Lakewood Ranch polo returns on Sunday for the 26th season and will continue without pause through April 9.
Something new this year is the introduction of Polo Friday, which made its debut Dec. 30 and attracted a crowd waiting for the gates to open, said Kristen Galvan, polo operations manager.
Polo Friday introduces four new matches to the schedule this season, Galvan said. The remaining dates for Polo Friday are Jan. 27, Feb. 24 and March 31.
During the season, eight competitive tailgating Sundays are planned, starting Jan. 8. The remainder are sprinkled throughout the season, said Sherri Sweeny, events and promotions coordinator.
This Sunday, the theme is the college football national championship, with Alabama and Clemson battling it out Monday night at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
Awards will be presented Sunday at Lakewood Ranch for best overall school spirit/mascot, best overall themed drink and best cafeteria food.
Subsequent tailgating competitions throughout the polo season include themes to stir the imagination: best love potion, best saloon hall swill drink, most glamorous person and most over-the-top food item, to mention a few.
This year, the polo matches will include teams from Lakewood Ranch, Wellington and the Villages, and top players from the United States and the United Kingdom, Galvan said.
Galvan is in her second season as polo operations manager at Lakewood Ranch, after relocating from her previous polo job in Aiken, S.C.
The Sarasota Polo Club is located at 8201 Polo Club Lane, just south of University Parkway, and just west of Lorraine Road.
Lorraine Road is being extended deeper into Sarasota County, but polo fans can still get to the field past the construction dust.
Gates open at 10 a.m. on Sunday and 2 p.m. on Friday. General admission is $12 a person. Children 12 and under are admitted free. Tickets can be purchased at the gate.
Sarasota Polo at Lakewood Ranch
Jan. 8 Holcomb-Kreithen Plastic Surgery and MedSpa
Jan. 15 Lakewood Ranch Womens Club
Jan. 22 Dinan Realty Group
Jan. 29 Country Club East
Feb. 5 Super Bowl Kick-off Party/Call for VIP tickets
Feb. 12 The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota
Feb. 19 Suncoast Porsche
Feb. 24 Polo Friday! The Mall at University Town Center
Feb. 26 The Observer Cup (SMR Cup)
March 5 Schroder-Manatee Ranch Inc.
March 12 BMO Private Bank
March 19 The Players Centre for the Performing Arts
March 26 Raymond James
March 31 Polo Friday! Southeastern Guide Dogs
April 2 Fidelity Investments
April 9 Saint Stephens Episcopal School
For more information, call 941-907-0000, or visit sarasotapolo.com