Originally created 09/13/03

Aiken polo scene gets attention



AIKEN - Like a locomotive thundering down the tracks, the hooves of thoroughbred horses pounded the enormous green field at the New Bridge Polo Club on Friday, leaving the lush green field pocked with divots.

It was no matter.

At half time, after three chukkers, or periods, about 30 fans and other players walked onto the field, stamping chunks of turf back into the ground, an old tradition in the sport of kings.

They chatted casually about the match at hand, a puppy someone bought earlier in the day and whatever else came to mind. It was testament to the resurgence in Aiken's polo scene, which reached its peak in the 1920s and '30s.

With the sport's newfound popularity, which has sped up during the past five years, a spate of new tournaments has popped up, drawing attention and players back to the city.

Dozens of the world's top players, such as Argentina's Matias Magrini, have moved to the area, rekindling the close-knit sense of family that polo used to create in Aiken.

Mr. Magrini owns and operates the New Bridge Polo Club with his partner, Russell McCall, of Atlanta. The match Friday is part of a two-week-long tournament that culminates Sept. 21.

"What we want is for everybody to have fun," Mr. Magrini said, wandering the sidelines watching the match, which included 15-year-old Parker Flannery.

Parker has been training in Aiken this summer with his uncle, Owen Rinehart, said his mother, Page Flannery. Many players credit Mr. Rinehart with jump-starting the city's current polo push. He bought land in Aiken 12 years ago off South Carolina Highway 302, where three polo fields now sit.

Mr. Rinehart's father, Rodger, also played polo, Mrs. Flannery said.

"It's certainly been a family addiction," she added.

You could say the same for Robin Bostwick, who manages the New Bridge and Aiken polo clubs. Her former father-in-law, Pete Bostwick, played, as did her own father, Del Carroll.

She plays and so does her son, Dell Carroll Walton, who is training in Argentina training.

Ms. Bostwick had left Aiken for greener polo pastures such as Boston and Palm Beach, Fla., but moved back two years ago.

"I had never dreamed it would come back like this," she said.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 279-6895 or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.