Polo and Prince Philip have been intertwined for more than 60 years. A passion for the game, instilled in him by his uncle, Earl Mountbatten of Burma, in the 1940s, continues to shine brightly and this Royal Prince takes pride in watching first his son and now his grandsons, The Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry, play a sport which he himself played with such verve and passion for many years. Prince Philip’s contribution to the game was never going to be one of idle bystander. He had demonstrated sporting prowess while still at school in Scotland – being captain of both the cricket and hockey teams. However, any early polo lessons were put on hold due to the outbreak of the Second World War. “I had just got as far as wielding a stick in a polo pit and doing some stick and ball practice on a pony before war broke out,” recalled the Duke.
Twelve years on, he found himself posted to the Mediterranean island of Malta with the Royal Navy, accompanied by his wife Princess Elizabeth. It was here that his life-long passion for polo really took off. Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten began to play in earnest, under the tutelage of Lord Mountbatten, author of one of the most influential books ever written on the game, An Introduction to Polo, under the pseudonym Marco. On his return, with Princess Elizabeth, to the UK in the early 1950s, Prince Philip was a strong supporter of Lord Cowdray’s plans of reviving the game on English soil. The Prince formed the Windsor Park team, as well as playing for other squads, and with them – distinctive in their dark green shirts with red trim – he won some of the game’s most prestigious cups. This included the Gold Cup – British Open Championship – in 1957 and 1966. His team-mates in these games featured Colonel Humphrey Guinness and the Irish nobles the Marquess of Waterford and Lord Patrick Beresford.
Such was the Prince’s enthusiasm for the game, that he began to look at the possibility of creating a club closer to his home at Windsor Castle. Cowdray Park in Sussex in the days before motorways was a tortuous route to travel with a horsebox and HM The Queen suggested the former airfield in Windsor Great Park. This was a wonderfully flat surface for polo and the Guards Polo Club was born.
Prince Philip continued to play until 1971, when arthritis forced his retirement from the game. Sadly, one of his Club’s main tournaments, The Queen’s Cup, donated by Her Majesty in 1960, eluded him, although he did finish in the runner-up spot on two occasions. However, this sporting Prince added his name to some of the sport’s most important trophies. Victories included the prestigious Royal Windsor Cup – one of the UK’s leading tournaments – the Westbury Cup, the Cowdray Park Challenge Cup and the Junior County Cup. He did not confine his polo to the UK either. In addition to those early polo-playing days in Malta, His Royal Highness reached the finals of the prestigious Hurlingham Open in Argentina in 1966. At around this time, his eldest son, Prince Charles, took up the sport at the age of 15. Prince Philip was on hand to provide the pony power. Prince Charles recalled later that this first pony “was called San Quinina and she was marvellous, knew an awful lot about the game. . . my father was a very good instructor and he gave me the basic techniques.”*
When Prince Philip hung up his polo stick for the last time it was clear that this superb sportsman was not going to opt for a more leisurely life. Instead, he took up the tough sport of competitive, four-in-hand carriage driving, competing at the top level. Polo though has remained a key interest and he continues to take an active role in the work and development of his own Club – Guards Polo Club. His drive and dedication for this sport in general and the club in particular has ensured that Guards Polo Club is probably the most famous polo club in the world. It hosts more than 500 fixtures every season (April – September) and features some of the sport’s biggest names as members. This includes his grandsons, both of whom regularly play in charity polo matches in the UK and abroad, raising thousands of pounds for their charitable foundation.
Of course Prince Philip accompanied his wife when The Queen officially reopened its stunning Clubhouse and Royal Box in 2009. This was also the Prince’s first opportunity to take a look inside La Martina’s first store at the Club. Adrian Simonetti, son of the La Martina founder, gave Prince Philip a private tour of the store, which continues to cater perfectly for both the polo professional and the casual polo visitor.
Guards Polo Club celebrated its 60th birthday in 2015 and Prince Philip hosted a reception at Windsor Castle for the members to celebrate such an anniversary. His passion for the game was evident – staying much later than planned so that he could speak to every guest, including a catch-up with former Windsor Park team-mate Lord Patrick Beresford.