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A little over a decade ago, China’s elite became disenchanted with the sports associated with the privileged and influential class. Sporting activities such as golf and yachting, while deemed worthy of nobility, didn’t supply the public exposure the elitists thrived upon. For centuries, polo has been coined as the sport of kings.

Thrilling the Spectators

Most importantly, polo invariably comes with a throng of well-to-do spectators on hand; applauding witnesses to outstanding performances of excellence. There can only be so much ego exposure, absorbed while playing 18 holes with a foursome of close friends. As well, sailing across the wind-swept waters in a private yacht is a rather personal experience.

Polo bestows upon the Chinese elite, both a sport and an enthusiastic audience. The equestrian sport started to spur the interest of the wealthiest Chinese elite around 2004, but there was only a single polo field in all of China. The sport of kings built gradual appeal over the next 5 years, but cultural change in China can be slow.

Since the initial Goldin Gold Cup match played during the summer of 2011, the appeal has skyrocketed. Wealthy business leaders and government dignitaries have adopted polo as a sport suited for the most affluent in the world. Over the last decade, a handful of extravagant estates have been built to stable the horses, each harboring a manicured polo field

Origins in Asia

Polo’s roots can be traced back to India, with the first club created in 1833, in Assam. India was part of the British Empire during this time, so the sport became closely associated with the English aristocracy. It’s this direct relationship to the aura of aristocratic worldliness, which the Chinese find so enticing.

The birth of the modern version of polo is conceded in most circles to India. However, there are records of Asian nomads galloping on horseback, who actually played a similar game as far back as the 7th century B.C. While it may have taken more than 20 centuries to rekindle interest, polo seems to have found its way back into the hearts of the wealthiest people in Central Asia.

Golf, along with other luxury sporting activities, has gradually lost their appeal with the country’s richest individuals. These elitist sports have been replaced by polo. Gone are the days when Chinese nobility bent over to replace their own chunk of grass, a divot unearthed by a chip shot with their nine-iron. China’s elite now has an audience of eager manicurists to “stomp out the divots“.