Singapore Polo Club
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The Singapore Polo Club was formed in 1899, following earlier unsuccessful attempts to start such a club in Singapore. Play began at the Singapore Sporting Club but moved to Balestier in 1914 when the Polo Club set up its own premises there. It moved to its current location at Thomson in the 1940s. Many improvements have been made to the Club over the years and these have helped to attract more members.
Formation of the Club
While the exact beginnings of the game of polo cannot be definitely ascertained, the start of the Singapore Polo Club can be pinpointed to February 1886 when a notice appeared in The Straits Times advertising that a meeting to establish a polo club was scheduled to be held at the Exchange Rooms on 9 February. Men interested in polo were encouraged to attend. Headed by E. W. Birch (later Sir Ernest Birch), secretary pro tem, a group of civilians and several officers decided it was time for polo to be established in Singapore. They collected sufficient money to establish a club and to level the ground for the game. A set of rules for the game was agreed upon at a meeting in March 1886.
However, other than these early efforts, there appeared to be no further development in the establishment of polo in Singapore. According to the press, there was another attempt to revive polo here in 1890, but it was met with even less success than the first attempt. This was probably not surprising as polo could never be regarded as a game for the masses, least of all for a population that was not allowed membership to the exclusive British Club, and it was considered an expensive sport.
Nonetheless, it was apparent that polo was not to die out in the colony. It was revived once again in 1899 with the unexpected support of the King's Own Regiment from Hong Kong when they were transferred to Singapore in January of the year. Some sources cite the formation year of the Singapore Polo Club as 1899 (instead of 1886), in which case the specific date of formation is probably the day the first game of the newly revived club was played, i.e. 16 February 1899. The game was played at the racecourse of the Singapore Sporting Club, which had earlier agreed to allow polo to be played on its race grounds at what is now Farrer Park, much to the chagrin of the golfers who shared the premises.
In the early years of polo's existence in the colony, the game had its share of royal patronage. For example, polo in Singapore received a boost when Sultan Ibrahim of Johor announced in March 1899 that he intended to learn to play. He also put at the disposal of the Singapore Polo Club the beautiful grounds of his palace at Tyersall (opposite today's Singapore Botanic Gardens) for polo games. Another royal patronage was from Prince Henry of Prussia, who played polo at the Club over several days in January 1900. He also presented a cup to the Club to be played for. Yet another royal visit was from the Duke of York on 25 April 1901. It sparked much excitement especially during the actual gymkhana (or equestrian game).
Move to New Permanent Home
With all this royal support and the affluence of the Europeans in Singapore at the time, which meant that most of them could afford horse-drawn vehicles and were able to engage in regular entertainment and sporting activities, the game flourished as did the Singapore Polo Club. By 1904, the Club had 24 players, each with two ponies. As membership at the Club grew, the committee made efforts to obtain one additional day per week (making it three in total) on the racecourse and to have more facilities. But the Singapore Golf Club refused to give up one of its days, claiming it had 46 players on the course every day. By the end of 1912, the Golf Club managed to convince the Singapore Sporting Club to disallow polo on its premises. The Polo Club thus had to find permanent grounds of its own, though play moved for a short period of time to a property owned by the Sultan of Johor in the Orchard area.
On 12 March 1914, the Singapore Polo Club moved to its first permanent home at Balestier Road, bounded on one side by McNair Road. Play began that month. The official opening was held a month later on 13 April 1914, when a grand opening gymkhana was held.
However, the strength of the Club varied as its membership waxed and waned with the arrival and departure of regiments. Although there were a number of civilian players, the majority of the members were regimental players and hence liable to be transferred, which made it difficult to build up a permanent core of players. The Club's revenue was also badly affected by the Great Depression (late 1920s to 1930s) and the two world wars (1914-1918 and 1939-1945).
After World War II (WWII)
After WWII, the Club decided to move from Balestier to its second (and current) permanent home at Thomson Road. Play began at its new home in 1947 with tournaments held the following year.
Many improvements were made to the grounds in the 1950s and a clubhouse was constructed in 1955. The Pony Section (a riding school for children) was created in 1959 and joined in 1962 by an Adult Riding School; they even held riding lessons for the disabled. This helped open up the Club's doors to the general public. But the Club felt that it had to concentrate on polo and should not include too much horse riding, so in the 1960s it turned down an offer to merge with the Bukit Timah Saddle Club. To increase its membership and to remain viable after the pullout of the British, the Club increased local membership in the 1960s by reducing subscription rates. It also elected its first local president.
In the 1980s, with the increase in its membership, the Singapore Polo Club underwent a major refurbishment and expansion to include offices and billiard rooms, squash and tennis courts and a swimming pool. With these improvements, membership has grown further.
Jeanne Louise Conceicao
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The information in this article is valid as at 2009 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.