By Dan Harvey Pedrick
The premier foray of the Federation of International Polo (FIP) into Canadian territory, the 86th Ambassadors’ Cup, took place at the Victoria Polo Club, a local institution first established in 1889.
Planning began more than two years earlier when Derek and Deborah Wolstenholme, longtime FIP members and supporters, presented the idea of the FIP event which they offered to sponsor. The date was set for Labour Day weekend, a very busy time with tourism at its peak.
The FIP Ambassadors arrived in Vancouver on Wednesday and were warmly greeted and billeted at the Four Seasons Hotel in Vancouver before making the ferry crossing to Vancouver Island the following day. After disembarking they were bussed to a reception at the waterfront Wolstenholme residence. With its stunning architecture and setting on Satellite Channel a sit-down dinner on the patio was enjoyed by guests and hosts but not before an unexpected and exotic command performance by a pair of veteran Cirque de Soleil acrobats who had been flown in from their show in Las Vegas for the occasion. Afterwards the makeup of the teams was announced and team shirts, caps, and equipment bags were handed out to the players.
With that spectacular start the members retired to their homes and the guests to Victoria’s Hotel Grand Pacific to await a scheduled official reception at Government House the next evening with the Lt. Governor of British Columbia in attendance.
Arriving at the official residence of the Province’s official head of state the guests marched up the long driveway following a resplendent red-coated RCMP officer and an equally impressive Highland bagpiper to be greeted by Her Honour Judith Guichon, a rancher from the Nicola Valley in B.C.’s interior.
An official connection to polo in British Columbia has a long history. Former Lt. Governor Clarence Wallace held the office in 1929 while playing on a team with his sons. At that time Vancouver businessman Austin Taylor commissioned the elegant sterling silver “Lt. Governor’s Cup” trophy that would be featured at this FIP event.
After some succinct speeches referring to the historical significance of the arrival of the FIP in Canada and its stated goal of returning polo to the Olympic sport status it once enjoyed, the party got down to the business of celebration with a splendid layout of food and liquid refreshments. A large ice sculpture of a poloist executing a perfect nearside backshot presided over the scene.
Saturday morning dawned clear and sunny and the field of play was deemed ready. Shortly after 11 a.m. the ball was thrown in and the playoffs for the 86th FIP Ambassador’s Cup had begun. Four teams had been organized, each captained by a member of the Victoria Polo Club, and named after four of the many exquisite smaller islands that lie between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia: Galiano, Mayne, Pender, and Salt Spring. In Game One “Salt Spring” bested “Galiano” by 4-3. The second four-chukka match saw “Pender” come out on top of “Mayne” 5-4.
That evening the guests were bussed to the world famous Butchart Gardens to enjoy a picnic and a thirty minute fireworks display. Later that night a summer long dry spell ended with a generous dose of much needed rain creating a special problem for polo players as the field was still too damp for the morning finals and some of the FIP visitors were boarding flights homeward in the afternoon.
Young Alexis Echeverria of Mexico’s La Patrona Polo Club proposed a solution: set up a goal directly in front of the clubhouse and marquee tents (where a sumptuous luncheon awaited) and have a shootout. Club members readily embraced the plan. Local native dancers arrived on time to perform a welcoming ceremony to start the day which simultaneously awed everyone and seemed to drive the clouds away.
The shootout was a fascinating and suspenseful affair watched with keen interest by the spectators who were able to see at close hand the focus, concentration, and skill required to sink the ball from forty yards on the still damp turf. Some veteran players of great reputation were stymied by the difficulty of this challenge while others found their moment of glory.
In the exciting finish, amid enthusiastic applause from the rapt polo fans, Team “Pender” (consisting of FIP members Ronald Zucher and Piero Dillier and VPC members Brent Hoeppner and Frank Van Veggel) emerged victorious.
On Monday evening a final dinner was enjoyed at the Deep Cove Chalet and gave participants an opportunity to reflect on the success of the first Canadian event for the FIP. The visitors not only had played an exciting tournament on the lush turf of Victoria’s only polo club but they were also able to cross The Salish Sea and experience the incredible environment and beautiful scenery of Southern Vancouver Island.