Newport Polo
photo courtesy of Newport Polo

This story was originally published at 7:02 pm on June 5th, it has been updated.

The ponies will be running at Glen Farm this summer, beginning today when a scaled down version of Newport Polo opens, with significant modifications that convinced the governor and various state agencies to give the popular attraction a last-minute reprieve.

After weeks of waiting for a state response to its request to hold a 2020 polo season, Newport Polo finally got its answer this week, telling patrons on Thursday night that polo would go on as scheduled, although with significant modifications.

It was not until slightly after 1 p.m. yesterday (Friday) that polo sent out another message to patrons, outlining plans and how patrons could request refunds for one or more matches, including the full season. 

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It is doubtful any international teams will appear in Rhode Island soon. Dan Keating, Newport Polo’s president, said early this morning that he is hopeful that by the time Rhode Island enters phase three, polo will be able to bring other teams to Glen Farm. 

“We hope to be in Phase 3 by the time for us to host the Italian team,” Keating said. 

For patrons, the rules will follow other statewide guidelines, requiring patrons to wear masks, not to socialize with other tailgating patrons, social distancing guidelines in effect throughout the polo grounds.

And there will be a lot less of them. According to Keating, the state has given polo “a nonspecific capacity that will be about 10-15 percent of one of the busier matches.” He did not give a specific number.

Tailgating, among the most popular ways to view a match and entertain will also be severely impacted. Keating said polo is being limited to “one car per tailgate space, like a drive-in movie.  As many people that can fit in your singular car is the capacity.  I would think it would average four or five, but it could be higher. There are some very spacious SUV’s out there.”

There will be no general admission tickets sold, and all other tickets must be purchased in advance.

Polo has also increased prices by 25 percent to cover what Keating said are additional costs, and presumably lost revenue. Tailgating spots that cost $65 are now $80, and what it calls reserved chalet spots (with permanent tents), rose from $100 to $125.

Newport Polo is perhaps the only large-scale event that has won state approval to open in phase II of the state’s reopening. Many events had canceled previously, including the Newport Jazz, Folk and Music Festivals, Rhythm & Roots, the Wickford and Virtu art festivals, Theatre by the Sea’s summer season, and the Providence Performing Arts Center programs for the remainder of the year.

Keating offered us some further insight into changes. Here is what he had to say.

Tailgating and parking

“Only the occupants of one car are permitted in each tailgate and others should not visit the tailgate spot. Social distancing is going to be a big part of how we survive the pandemic. There is additional parking for the pavilion seating. We are hoping that if we do a good job and our patrons follow the rules, we can increase the occupancy in the future, perhaps in phase three.”

How they will play

“My daughter and I with two professionals have been scrimmaging in a non-contact form of polo we are developing while the social distancing group was set at five.  Since we all live and work together, we were operating within the guidelines. Our other players were doing the same thing.  When phase two started we were about to come together as a pod of 15. In keeping with the current guidelines for adult athletics, we will continue to compete in that pod of 15 local players. In the match (today) it will feature two Newport teams, one that is based in Portsmouth against the one that has been, until Phase 2, been training only in Tiverton.  Out of the eight players, six played last year in the international matches, and there will be one player on each team making their debut in the series, so we are looking for a competitive match.  

“The guideline for adult sports does not permit contact sports.  The umpire will issue a yellow card for a player that executes or attempts to execute a ride off.  We also will replace the through in which is like a face-off and usually draws a lot of contact. Instead, we will adopt the NFL rules. Coin toss winner knocks in, loser picks a direction. Half time loser of the original coin toss gets knock in and coin toss winner calls direction.  Players will not come to the center for a through in after a goal, the team scored against will get the knock in. This will result in each team attacking the same goal for the same period (Previously, teams switched sides after each goal). The style of play the Argentines play is minimal contact as they believe all the bumping slows the horses and makes for a slower game as we shall have to see.”