In ancient Siam, the former name for Thailand, people were familiar with a game called 'Khlee', an Indian sport. Khlee and polo likely originated in Persia, modern day Iran. It was the British who first introduced polo to Siam, in the last decade of the nineteenth century.
In 1890, Prince Devawongse Varopakarn, the minister of foreign affairs, accepted the proposal of an Englishman, Franklin Hurst, to set up a racetrack and sports field in Bangkok. Hurst later rented a piece of land at Sra Pathum where occasional horse races, gymkhanas, cycle races and polo matches were held. This sporting area later became the Royal Bangkok Sports Club.
There is also evidence that polo was played at the Pramane Grounds (better known now as Sanam Luang) prior to 1920. In 1924, the Bangkok Riding Club leased land just off Wireless Road from the Crown Property Bureau. This became the Bangkok Riding and Polo Club, where polo and other equestrian sports were played three times a week. Polo matches also took place in the north of Thailand at the Chiang Mai Gymkhana Club, which had been founded in 1898 primarily by British residents living in Chiang Mai, Lampang, Nan, Phrae and Nakhon Sawan. During the Second World War, polo could not be played as many foreigners were either forced to leave Thailand or were interned. After the war, it took many years before polo was once again played on any kind of regular basis.
Currently, polo and other equestrian sports are gaining a greater public profile, with patrons such as Harald Link and Nunthinee Tanner (recognised as Thailand’s first female polo player) encouraging increased interest in the sport among Thais and expatriates. International-class tournaments are taking place on good quality playing facilities, such as the Thai Polo & Equestrian Club which holds such events as the Thai Polo Open Championship and the Queen’s Cup Pink Polo and emphasises the exciting, social side of polo, combining high-quality match play with interesting activities for spectators and families.
Set in more than 2,000 rai (or about 250 hectares) of picturesque grounds to the east of Pattaya, just 90 minutes or so drive from the capital, Bangkok, the Thai Polo & Equestrian Club is arguably a unique facility in all Asia and Australasia.
Boasting three full-sized, international-standard polo playing fields as well as two practice grounds, and stabling for more than 250 horses, the Thai Polo & Equestrian Club opened in 2005, although it was initially called, simply, the Thai Polo Club. This changed a few years later when the equestrian facilities were added to the mix.
The brainchild of polo enthusiasts Harald Link (President of the South-east Asian Equestrian Federation) and Mrs Nunthinee Tanner (considered the first female polo player in Thailand), the Thai Polo & Equestrian Club has grown in size and stature in recent years. The number of enthusiasts has grown steadily over the past decade or so, and the Club now has around 80 horses available for members and guests. The clubhouses were designed by Nunthinee Tanner, while the Chukka Bar is an exact replica of the famed polo bar in the Langham Hotel in London.
In 2007, renowned Australian designer Wayne Copping was given the task of establishing an international standard cross-country course which would be suitable as a venue for international events, such as the South-east Asian Games. An eventing course was designed by New Zealander John Nicholson, and this was used to host the inaugural Asia Eventing Championships. With the addition of an endurance course and an international Derby facility, the club is now recognised as the largest multi-functional polo and equestrian operation in all Asia.
The veterinary and quarantine facilities are second-to-none in the region, with a leading Argentinian vet acting as general manager of the complex, overseeing Argentinian, French, British as well as local farriers, trainers, and stable staff.
Over the years the club has attracted many local and international players. The Thai Polo Open, sponsored by B. Grimm, takes place every January and attracts between six and eight teams.
The noted American-based polo coach Rege Ludwig hosts a polo school at the club. His clinics cater to all skill levels and age groups. Rege Ludwig spends more than six months a year at the club, imparting his renowned knowledge to a new generation of polo enthusiasts.