It's nearly that time again, and Doug Batchelor is beginning to get restless.
He loves to compete, and every year, it is the same. Time to gather the family, pack up the tailgate party and head for the field. For 116 years, area residents have been enjoying their sport on this and other Aiken fields and, even at 51, Mr. Batchelor does his part to continue the tradition. Each weekend, he dons his jersey and readies himself for the perpetual chase amidst the thundering clamor of his opponents as they all vie for possession of the ball.
Kordell Stewart he's not.
Mr. Batchelor is part of a movement to restore a dying sport, one played continuously longer in Aiken than any other place in the country.
"When Aiken and Augusta were winter resorts, the people came down from the North with their racehorses and polo ponies and all," he explains. "At the height of that era, there were 26 polo fields between the two cities."
Today he said the club, formed in 1899, is down to about 25 players, less than half of those local.
Mr. Batchelor said he was approached to play, along with others in the area who regularly ride horses, because "all the wealthy people in Aiken that played polo were dying out."
So a friend of his bought a mallet and a ball. Mr. Batchelor followed. They began to hit around an old pasture and, hey, it was fun. So he bought a polo horse. And then another.
"Pretty soon, I had to buy a bigger trailer," he said, laughing.
After all, anything Mr. Batchelor does, he does 100 percent. Attorney for Columbia County Commission and partner in a downtown Augusta firm, Mr. Batchelor has long been accustomed to arduous hours and intellectual challenges.
But after hours, he heads back to his Evans farm and readies his ponies for battle.
"It's like soccer on horseback," said Mr. Batchelor.
There are two goals at each end of the field.
Players on horseback can run alongside each other and bump and push for position, but they can never angle in front of each other.
They play six chukkers, or periods; a typical game lasts one hour and 45 minutes.
"It becomes pretty aggressive," he said. "It's not football or hockey, but you get some tempers and some shouting."
The spectators can be pretty competitive as well.
"Cars come right up and park to watch," said Mr. Batchelor. "Suburbans back up, and everyone brings tailgate parties with picnics and coolers. They compete to see who can set up the most lavish feast with candelabras and such."
The bottom line?
"I play polo because it's fun," he said. "I've ridden horses all my life, since I was 7 or 8, and I've really enjoyed this more than any other aspect."
Fox hunting. Showing. Just riding. In any form, it is a challenge and a thrill.
"You have to be somewhat fit," he said. "I ruptured my biceps tendon last year playing and had to go to the Mayo Clinic. My wife said if I played again and broke it again, I'd have to take care of myself.
"But in the back of my mind, I figure I can play at least until I'm 60.
"The day after a game of polo, I feel like I used to feel in high school after a football game. It's an exhausting but great feeling."
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