BACK IN THE SADDLE

Dave Savage, Richard Cameron, Patrick Furlong, Raphael le Masne De Chermont, Aron Harilela, Kwun Lo, Marco Kaster
Hong Kong Team Shirts
Aron Harilela Play
Richard Cameron, Dave Savage
Dave Savage, Jaeger LeColutre watch auction

David Savage, an equestrianism entrepreneur behind the formation of The Hong Kong Polo Team and an upcoming Hong Kong Polo Club set to open in 2017, recalls vividly an event that piqued his interest in the sport. Years ago in England, he took his clients to the Guards Polo Club, a legendary venue that hosts polo events frequented by society’s elite and members of the royal family. Cartier’s International Polo Day event was unfolding but in typical British fashion, gloomy weather clouded over the occasion, with bitter winds and hard rain.

His crowd huddled under a big umbrella. “We were watching a group of polo players that were coming towards us at the end of the field then suddenly, thundering past with the mud and rain spraying up in the air, there was Prince Harry in front of us.” The fourth heir in line to the throne was on horseback, yelling at the top of his lungs. “As he got close to me he shouted ‘Take the man!’ Then he said ‘Got him’ then rode off.”

Savage added, “That day I saw him lead that group and thought; Harry’s a real leader, a real general, he was playing properly.” The moment inspired him further, “I thought it was amazing, I’d like to try that.”
Days later the polo novice was at a farm to be schooled at the game, a challenge given his limited experience. But six months later he became a confident player. Now it’s a lifelong pursuit. “Once it’s in your blood it’s very hard to get it out even if you’ve only played for a few years, which was the case for me.”

His obsession with the game knows no geographical bounds. In 2012, the entrepreneur involved in design engineering and construction ventures, came to Hong Kong to establish a business and sought to play the sport recreationally. The Briton soon learnt from polo players that there is no polo in Hong Kong, citing lack of land, financing and little support from the authorities. Though disappointed, Savage was not defeated. “I come from running lots of business in the UK successfully and I’ve won many national business awards, I didn’t win them from walking away from an ppportunity.” Ideas were galloping in his head. It occurred to him that this was a chance to resurrect the polo scene in the city, including forming a polo venue. “I knew there was a lot of interest for polo here, all I did was become the catalyst.”

He gathered the right people to propel this dream forward, with advice from the experts at the Hong Kong Jockey Club, the Hong Kong Master’s show-jumping event and more. Much support also stemmed from Dr. Simon Ip, the chairman of the Hong Kong Jockey Club and president of the Hong Kong Equestrian Federation at that time, who wrote a letter of endorsement for Savage’s polo ambitions. Aside from getting the top people to support such
goals, Savage realised that forming a polo team with Hong Kongers would help revive the scene here. He founded Asia World Polo Limited, a commercial entity that brings in sponsorships and governs professional aspects of the squad. Its current sponsors include investments and stamp collectibles dealer Stanley Gibbons, Swiss watchmaker Jaeger-LeCoultre, Royal Salute whisky and more.

Next is to establish the Hong Kong Polo Club in the New Territories. Savage says it’s a long process to secure an exact site with the right zoning and other requirements such as making sure it benefits the community. His target membership is around 700 people and the facility would house 50 to 75 stabled horses. “Hong Kong is just about the only major ‘world’ city that has no polo club, but has in any case many playersliving here,” says Patrick Furlong, the captain of the Hong Kong Polo Team who curated some well-connected players. Shanghai Tang’s executive chairman Raphael Le Masne de Chermont and Aron Harilela, the CEO and chairman of the Harilela Group are amongst the team, which debuted at Boujis club late last year.
Furlong adds, “The idea of forming a structure and governance for the HK Polo Team is the first step in this initiative, and the success we have had so far is a reflection of the positive impact it has had in the polo community of Hong Kong and the region.” He’s surprised to see such initiatives have not been done properly before since polo players have been here already.

“There have been instances where players of Hong Kong teamed up for club tournaments around the region and in Europe before, forming teams with two Hong Kong players and other professional players or non Hong Kong players,” reveals the team’s coach. Furlong adds, “The difference with this initiative and its appeal to players is that it gathers Hong Kong players that had the dream of playing together under the banner of Hong Kong with a structure and support that was not there before.”

The team has played a friendly game recently in Pattaya, Thailand. Proper games are next, possibly a snow polo match in Tianjin, China or other competitions at the Singapore Polo Club, the Korean Polo Country Club and more.
It’s been decades since the existence of a competitive homegrown team, says Savage. The last time the sport was played on local soil was under British rule. Whilst reviving the scene here, Savage hopes to shed its elitist connotations that stem from the sport’s earlier incarnations centuries ago. Nowadays there are no restrictions to break into the sport he says. “If you’re excited and interested about playing polo, you are able to participate in the sport. Our mission is to make it a sport for all.”
Savage envisions grand plans for the venue. “Further down the road, the intention is try to bring some events into Hong Kong and find sponsors to help achieve that.” His ambition is to host international events at the club to show the world how good the city is at playing and showcasing polo.

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