Spectacular sunshine and high quality horseplay were the hallmarks of this year’s St Andrews Charity Polo Tournament. Held, as usual, in support of Help For Heroes, the event is Scotland’s largest ticketed polo event – last Saturday, over 1600 polo enthusiasts flocked to Errol Park Estate, clad in their finest garden attire. Food, music, fizz, and record high temperatures united to create a day of high class fun. By the end, most people probably couldn’t tell you who won the matches.* The true winners were us: the guests.
* Jonathan Gregory informs me that the St Andrews team won the exhibition match against the regiment at Leuchars.
Very few individuals can recall the 2015 tournament, where the solitary food vendor was a lone burger joint. Fans of freedom of choice marvelled at this year’s food village, a testament to the importance of variety in a balanced diet. Guests lined their stomachs with On the Roll, the Cheesy Toast Shack, and Barnacles + Bones, among many other excellent vendors (in particular, the unparalleled burger-like rolls of Highland Spit Roasts).
In the Whispering Angel Rosé Château d’Esclans garden, guests attended to unlimited pastries and finger sandwiches. The decision to serve the food buffet style was a marked improvement on previous years, where hungry garden table ticket holders tended to pillage from their surrounding tables. In the nearby VIP section, bottles of bubbly and complimentary drinks occupied the majority of available table space. Some forward-thinking guests had brought blankets, upon which they relaxed, admiring the impressive standard of polo playing.** In between games, spectators mobbed the field for the traditional divot stomping and dog petting, two tenets of any successful outdoor event.
** Jonathan Gregory further informs me that he made a hat-trick, which means he scored three times in a row, which is actually a pretty big deal.
Ironically, the success of the day led to a moderate failure on the transportation front. In past years, guests have tended to depart from 15.00 onwards, with the final buses being appropriated to any stragglers. This year, the majority of guests remained pitch-side until the very end. The sudden exodus at 17.00 led to intense congestion before the initial shuttle rides, with some guests reporting queues lasting over an hour.
In a statement, the committee has confirmed that this was far from their intention. Director Hunter Pruitt tells us: “Having only learned last Friday, twenty-four hours prior to the start of the event, that the bus company would not allow their buses to travel up the dirt road and onto the grass, we had to make a new plan of action immediately. As we evaluated all of the options, my fellow committee members and I knew that the guest experience would be slightly impacted by the new transit system.”
The sudden need to compromise led to the much maligned shuttle bus system, which Hunter agrees “was definitely not ideal in the slightest. […] However, we were faced with an ultimatum – it was either this procedure or the bus company would not operate the next day.” He notes the particular efforts of Abigail Roesser, Victoria Gilbert and Pia Szabo in coordinating the last minute logistical effort.
He concludes: “On behalf of the whole committee, we do apologise for the inconvenience that this may have caused guests who decided to walk the quarter-mile long road. We would like to clarify that we are already seeking alternative companies for next year’s event and will do our best to ensure this doesn’t happen again. In 2017, the buses ended up all over the estate, and in 2018 we got them to the right place, but they refused to go on a flat dirt road and grass. As you can see from this year, we have made progress in getting the buses to operate more smoothly than last year to provide guests with the best experience possible. The new Tournament committee will definitely make this area of concern a priority when organising the 2019 event.”
Beyond this flaw, the polo tournament was characterised by nothing but unbridled excellence. The effort the committee put not only into continuing previous years’ success, but improving upon it, was tangible. Guests were provided for on all counts – everything from the bar to the loos to the security team functioned precisely as intended. Next year, we can undoubtedly expect a smooth ride both to and from Errol.