“Playing professional polo has really helped me as Polo Manager. If you haven’t played and don’t understand the nuances of the game, it is hard to debate with a patron or a professional polo player especially regarding contentious points such as handicaps or an umpire’s decision.”
Meet the team – Chris Bethell, Polo Manager at Cowdray Park Polo Club
- Can you describe your role as Polo Manager at Cowdray Park Polo Club?
I have been the Polo Manager at Cowdray Park Polo Club for the last 18 years. I am passionate about my job and have loved watching the club and the game develop and grow over the years. I started working as the Assistant Polo Manager, before being promoted to Polo Manager. This is my 20th season at Cowdray.
We play over 500 polo games during the season, which runs from the end of April to the third week in September. On average 25 games are played a week. We have some of the best club grounds in England and a lot of polo is played in those five months.
My job is to oversee fixtures and schedules, which means an incredibly busy summer, but there is also a lot of preparatory work to be done off season.
I am also on several committees which oversee rule changes which affect handicaps and umpire rules etc… The Hurlingham Polo Association oversees the sport of polo, and you must abide by their rules. There is a lot to know about running a club.
2. What were you doing prior to becoming the Polo Manager?
I originally worked for an architect firm in Winchester but left that to come to Midhurst where I ran a large-scale yard in Graffham alongside playing polo professionally. I played polo for over 30 years, including taking part in the Gold Cup. I also travelled the world umpiring and managed a small club in Uruguay.
Playing professional polo has really helped me as Polo Manager. If you haven’t played and don’t understand the nuances of the game, it is hard to debate with a patron or a professional polo player especially regarding contentious points such as handicaps or an umpire’s decision.
3. What are your aspirations for Cowdray Park Polo Club?
We want to make sure that the Club grounds remain the best in England and to provide the best possible environment for players, patrons and spectators to enjoy the great games of polo.
Polo is a huge industry now. A high goal polo team generally has about 60 ponies – many of whom are turned out to grass locally in the winter and are stabled here in the summer. This is beneficial for the local economy.
During the summer, there is a huge influx into the area with grooms, farriers, food merchants and farmers who supply hay all benefiting from it. It is important that Cowdray Park Polo Club continues to attract the best teams not only for the Estate but for the whole Midhurst area.
4. What has been your proudest moment?
There is a small local six goal tournament called the West Sussex Cup which my father won, I also won it and last year my daughter won.
5. Who do you work with?
I work with a great and very supportive team as well as with the Cowdray Park Polo Committee, who are experienced in polo and are an integral part of running the club.
We also have three full time grounds crew who work hard all year round maintaining and improving the grounds plus additional seasonal staff.
We have 10 grounds: River Ground, Lawns 1, Lawns 2 and Lawns 3 and six polo pitches at Ambersham; the best being Ambersham 3 and Brooks Field. A lot of preparatory work is done in the winter on the polo grounds as once summer comes it is flat out making sure that the pitches are ready for every game.
6. The logistics of organising who plays which matches must take quite some organising. How do you manage this?
Arranging the fixtures is like a giant jigsaw puzzle. We work out the schedule about two or three weeks in advance, as any earlier things are likely to change. We have to juggle patrons and players commitments including which dates they can or can’t play.
The players are also sensitive as to which pitch they are scheduled on. The weather also affects the polo; I have six weather apps on my phone and am constantly checking them although we do play in the rain.
The only tournament which is easier to schedule is the Gold Cup as players can’t give a no-play day.
7. When did you start learning to play polo? And what do you love about the sport?
My grandfather and my father played polo. I started riding as a child but didn’t start playing polo until I was in my late teens, early twenties. I played both low goal and high goal polo tournaments.
There is a real buzz about playing polo and you feel a strong connection with the horse. I still have a passion for polo even though I haven’t played for five years.
8.Your family has strong connections to Cowdray. Can you tell us more about this?
My father started working for Lord John Cowdray in the Seventies – he was Master of the Horse and managed Lord Cowdray’ polo ponies.
My father won the Gold Cup in 1962. He played for Cowdray Park Polo Club last time they won it.
9. What are you most looking forward to about the Cowdray Gold Cup?
I love the buzz of the Gold Cup; from the moment the draw is announced via live streaming through to the finals. I always feel very proud to be involved with the Club particularly around Gold Cup week.
During the tournament I am running around as there is a lot to coordinate. I try to get to know everyone – particularly players and patrons – and have built up a lot of longstanding relationships over the years. We have had one or two unbelievably exciting Gold Cup Finals which have entertained the crowd.
10. Where is your favourite place on the Estate?
It would have to be on Lawns I or Lawns 2. But otherwise on the 7th tee on Cowdray Park Golf Club looking down towards the Queen Elizabeth Oak.
11. What do you like to do in your spare time?
I don’t have much but when I do I love watching rugby and football.
12. Where do you like to go on holiday?
I rarely go on holiday. I love the area around here – it is one of the most beautiful parts of England.
13. And finally, what can’t you live without?
My wife and my 23-year-old daughter and 21-year-old son. I love spending time with my family.
Written by Matilda Reid.
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