A lot has changed at Bridgehampton Polo this summer. At the season opener, the hats bore the logo of concierge airline Zen Air. Instead of the familiar Mercedes-Benz display, a dozen or so pristine Ferraris gleamed in the sun. There was caviar, not cheese cubes. The biggest change, though, was something more intangible. Under the VIP tent things seemed, well, more polite, more civilized – the way polo is supposed to be.
For one thing, you could actually see the game without a periscope because the tent wasn’t packed like the Number 6 train at rush hour. The pumped-up drinkers of some past matches were elsewhere, probably partying at fun venues of their own. This season’s fans wanted to relax, have a little conversation and watch some world-class polo. And they came to the right place.
No one has been a better spokesman for polo than star player Nacho Figueras. Of the matches’ past ambiance, Figueras said, “There was definitely room to improve. The idea now is to make it more about the sport and what’s going on out on the field.” Figueras is now club partner with co-founder and owner Peter Brant, who played against Figueras’ Circa team for White Birch. The match was supposed to be first in the Monty Waterbury cup, but the torrential rains the day before had soaked the field and made a normal six-chukker game impossible. Instead, the stalwart club put on a lively exhibition game, with Felipe Viana scoring first, then Figueras getting one through for the next point. White Birch ended up winning 2-1.
Asked if his new partner status will add to any pre-game nervousness he gets, Figueras said, “No, just the same old necessary nervousness to play well. Look, I’m on the mature side of my career now anyway. I’m getting older – I turned 35 this year. When you get older, you get wiser.”
Figueras, who moonlights as a Ralph Lauren model, proves that it’s all relative, and he certainly still kept the paparazzi snapping. Maybe the only two people in attendance who might consider the famous No. 3 to be elderly would be two fans recruited to hand out the Zen Air hats, 13-year-old John Bush and six-year-old Sebastian, who when asked to spell his last name couldn’t remember how. To the rescue was Zen Air co-founder, Gianpaolo DeFelice, also known as Sebastian’s dad and also known as husband of Gabby Karan, daughter of the fashion designer Donna Karan.
Echoing Figueras’ sentiments on keeping the focus on the game, DeFelice said he wasn’t always a big polo buff, “but I came last year and really enjoyed it. This year, we have no party promoters involved, and we are now bringing friends, family, and clients.”
Zen Air calls its meals “moveable feasts” and pairs them with wines. For the adults, that is—they also have special kiddie meals. Another luxury touch—beds with high thread count sheets (which sure beats the scratchy blankets that coach class passengers now have to pay for on commercial airlines).
Another new sponsor reflecting the more elite direction of the club’s list is Town and Country Magazine. Publisher Valerie Salembier tossed out the first ball to begin the game and the season. It had been planned that Christie Brinkley would share the honors with her, but Brinkley’s mother had suffered a non-fatal heart attack. The model’s stepfather died just over a week ago.
A somewhat different take on polo fashion was provided by “Real Housewives of New York” star, Countess LuAnn De Lesseps, making a photo-op entrance in a va va voom red spandex dress and on the arm of Frenchman, Jacques Azoulay. In fact, quite a lot of French accents were heard among the 350 VIPs under the tent, as well as Portuguese—from the Brazilian jazz singer Ludmilla. Other fashionable people included Kelly Klein and Beth Stern.
Tailgaters, bleacher fans, and tent fans all saw an exciting match, and that’s what it was about. Everyone could view the sleek specimens sponsor Ferrari had on display; selected invitees got up close and personal with the FF, the company’s first four-seater and four-wheel drive V12 sports car.
Of course, under the invitation-only VIP tent, drinks are on the house, and bartenders are innovative. Polo fan Bob Lyster endorsed the basil, lemongrass, elderflower and Fair Vodka cocktail. And, it must be reported – you haven’t lived until you’ve had that herby concoction to sip along with the Pointy Snout Caviar, produced in Sacramento by a company that stresses the sustainability of its operation. Sag Harbor restaurant Tutto Il Giorno treated guests to outdoorsy hors d’oeuvres, and Grey Goose Vodka poured the liquid refreshment for washing them down.
Bridgehampton Polo happens every Saturday through August 25 at Two Trees Farm on Hayground Road in Bridgehampton. Entrance fees go to a local charity.