Has Polo Lost Its Mojo?

A NAVAJO BLANKET woven in the pattern of an American flag hung over Ms. Walentas’ fringed, shoulder-length halo of silver blond hair.

“That’s fairly contemporary, because it has 50 stars,” Mr. Walentas barked proudly. “I like American flags, I’m a very patriotic person. America’s the best, isn’t it?”

The couple’s Maine coon cat, Stuart, leapt onto the table, the bell on his collar jingling violently. “Down Stuart! Come on!” Mr. Walentas chided. “He’s like a dog, very affectionate.”

Mr. Walentas led the way into a living room with rustic, exposed-beam ceilings. “Nice and cozy, right?” he said. “Not pretentious.”

The floors were handsome wood planks, salvaged from the roof. A hunter green leather settee faced two matching armchairs. A glass side table at the edge of the room was draped in a dark green horse blanket, Two Trees discreetly embroidered in gold thread near the bottom.

On to the porch. “The hydrangeas are out of control this year!” Ms. Walentas marveled while waiting for her hubby to get a sweater-lavender cashmere, it turned out. He was wearing-what else?-a black Lauren polo shirt with an oversize embroidered emblem covering the greater part of his heart. His shirt was tucked into white jeans, and he wore a Native American woven and leather belt.

Their Mercedes truck (license plate: STABLE) lumbered out of the driveway and down Hayground Road to the polo entrance to the property about 300 yards away. Both the polo and the equestrian center have separate driveways, but the Walentases insist they always feel like they are in horse country. “We see the horses outside our windows,” Mr. Walentas said.

Two trailer homes floated at one end of the field. “There’ll be about 12 of these by the time the polo starts because all the grooms stay with the horses,” he said.

Polo players don’t travel light: They come with horses and grooms, swelling the horse population at Two Trees to 250 from about 100 (including Annette Lauer’s Bonaparte and Rory Tahari’s Deep Water), who live at the farm year-round. “It’s like a traveling circus operation,” Ms. Walentas said.

 

VIEW SLIDESHOW > A VIRTUAL TOUR OF DAVID WALENTA’S POLO HEAVEN

 

IT WAS DIFFICULT to imagine the serene swath of grass throbbing with 20-something investment bankers and C-list celebrities overzealously slurping miniature bottles of Champagne through straws, as they will in July.

Many would argue that the ascent of the VIP tent housing these creatures and the concomitant rise of garish corporate sponsors (event management was taken over a few yeas ago by Strategic Group’s Jason Strauss and Noah Tepperberg) has marked the demise of polo more definitively than Mr. Walentas’ subdivision plan. “I’m not a snob, but that crowd is just so sleazy,” said longtime Hamptons habitué and writer Stephen Gaines. “The celebrities and the elegant ladies in the hats are gone. It’s just young drunk people now. The last time I went I had a house guest who was desperate to see it for some reason, and when we got home we both had to shower immediately.”

Meanwhile, a rebel group of private polo fields have cropped up on the large estates of local polo patrons like Joe DiMenna and Louis Bacon, perhaps a purer alternative to the polo-palooza that is the Mercedes-Benz Challenge. The Southampton Polo Club has attracted 12 novice polo players this season. “There’s plenty of polo!” Adam Lindemann, an art collector and player in last year’s Mercedes-Benz tournament, emailed The Observer from a yacht in Greece. “The only polo isn’t at Two Trees, for Chrissakes.”

Of the upcoming event, Social Life publisher Justin Mitchell said: “It’s definitely a staple in the Hamptons, like the Hampton Classic and the charities.” But he conceded mores have changed significantly. “I remember the matches back in 1997 before they really commercialized it, and it was a lot different. It was very family-oriented, people who cared about polo. Those people are long gone. They’re at the Southampton Polo Club or Palm Beach or Connecticut.

“The original polo fans have moved away from the commercial part of it,” Mr. Mitchell concluded. “In a way, this might be a benefit,”

The Walentases, for their part, have missed only two Saturday polo matches in 15 years. “Once we went to Italy,” Ms. Walentas said, “and once there was a terrible thunderstorm and were about to go out, but at the last minute we decided not to.” Rolling over the close-cropped grass, her husband pointed out a trio of grazing mares in the distance.  “We really feel the equestrian; the horses are all around us, the paddocks all around us,” his wife said from the back seat.

“It’s like no other athletic or social event,” she declared nostalgically of the polo tournament.

“It’s the best!” Mr. Walentas boomed. “And so now we just have memories.”

“No,” Ms. Walentas said. “Now we’re golfers.”

cmalle@observer.com

Has Polo Lost Its Mojo?