By Terrance Thornton
A burgeoning north Scottsdale event may become a keystone attraction for the Phoenix metropolitan area offering the average citizen a glimpse of affluence, ushering in the peak tourism season and introducing thousands to the sport of polo.
The second annual Scottsdale Polo Championships will be held Saturday, Oct. 20 at the Westworld of Scottsdale’s Polo Field at Loop 101 and Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard.
The sport of field polo — an endeavor that usually conjures images of fancy hats, heirs to riches and champagne flutes — is a contest between two teams of four on horseback vying to score goals by hitting a plastic ball between wooden posts.
Matches can take about two hours, are played on a 300-yard field and are separated by halftimes or chukkas.
While the sport of polo is sure to lure some to the event, Valley publicist Jason Rose hopes a preview of both the latest Barrett-Jackson car auction and Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show will tap into another audience.
“We think this event has real potential,” Mr. Rose said in an Oct. 2 phone interview noting the event will feature picnic areas for families as well as cabanas and tequila lounges for the over-21 crowd. “Can it be the next signature event of Scottsdale?”
Mr. Rose hopes so.
Tourism is big business in Scottsdale with 8.6 million people visiting in calendar year 2010 and an estimated $2.9 billion in annual economic impact, according to the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Rose, Moser, Allyn Public & Online Relations is spearheading the event — down to every aspect of promotions.
“We have a four-year business plan and last year it is fair to say, ‘We lost a few bucks,’” he pointed out. “We are the producers, it is our risk.”
Mr. Rose says his outfit has earmarked $250,000 for the event compared to its $60,000 bottom line last year.
Event promoters say they expect somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000 spectators for the event.
Premier events have to start somewhere, Mr. Rose contends.
“We believe that we are in the second year of the Valley’s premier event,” he said pointing out the humble beginnings of the Fiesta Bowl. “College football is going to have more appeal than polo. Our goal is to become the most attended polo event in the country.”
With Nic Roldan and Tommy Biddle Jr. — both of whom are regarded as two of the best polo players in North America — headlining the afternoon match between Bel Air Polo Club and The Hamptons, Mr. Rose says this event could become a boon for the area.
Work to Ride
The Scottsdale Polo Championship features a story line not typically seen on any polo pitch.
The Work to Ride team is comprised of players with backgrounds that do not lend themselves to commonalities of the foes they face — and usually beat.
In the city of Philadelphia at Fairmount Park, the largest inner-city public park in America, Lezlie Hiner has been turning at-risk kids into championship polo players since 1994.
The Work to Ride program, a 501(c)3 organization, admits troubled youth as early as 8 years old, and through equestrian sports — be it fox hunting or polo — helps teach its participants the value of hard work, taking education seriously and how to be a productive part of society, Ms. Hiner says.
“I try to start them young,” she said in an Oct. 2 phone interview. “The team that we are bringing to Scottsdale is made up of graduates and those who have graduated from the program.”
Since 1994 Ms. Hiner says the program has graduated about 20 students.
“The program is not something that kids pop in and pop out of. This becomes their social fabric … it becomes their home away from home,” she explained.
“It is all low-income youth. More than likely if you live in the ‘burbs’ you are not necessarily going to be here.”
Tenets of the program include staying in school, abiding by the rules and showing up where you are suppose to on time, Ms. Hiner says.
“We are looking for kids that can develop a passion for horses and horse sports,” she pointed out. “I have a kid that has been with me 11 years. This isn’t something that we are taking 20 kids for six weeks and just running them through.”
To learn more about the Work to Ride program, go to www.worktoride.net.
Horses and Horsepower
The Scottsdale Polo Championship coined “Horses and Horsepower” is an event that speaks to the emerging identity of the north Scottsdale community, according to Joe Galli, North Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce executive director.
“It is a very unique event, it is at the right time of the season,” he said in an Oct. 2 phone interview “It is a wonderful event and an attraction because you don’t see it all the time and to put it in our own backyard it received overwhelming support.”
The stature of the event fits the north Scottsdale community, Mr. Galli contends.
“It certainly has all the characteristics of the type of event we want in the community,” he said.
Horses and the community affectionately called the “West’s most western town” go hand in hand, Mr. Galli says.
“I think it sits with the real roots of the community,” he explained.
Myriad events are a good thing for Scottsdale tourism, according to Rachel Pearson of the Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“To see an event like this that started last year and how much it has grown since; we love seeing that sort of potential in our events,” she said in an Oct. 2 phone interview.
The event could help provide a boost to annual revenue derived primarily from tourism activities, Ms. Pearson says.
“It is nice to see new amenities and events in the October timeframe,” she said, noting the month of October as part of the local season where hotels are not at full capacity or at full rates.