… Why they came east I don't know. They had spent a year in France, for no particular reason, and then drifted here and there unrestfully wherever people played polo and were rich together ...
- The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Playing polo and “being rich together” is a lifestyle most of us can only dream about. The very notion of polo brings to mind champagne-sipping folks dressed in pique cotton shirts and jodhpurs, mingling on a country estate with expensive ponies and discussing the share market.
That lifestyle is an everyday reality for Peter Higgins. In 1992, Higgins and his brother Rodney founded Mortgage Choice and in so doing created the mortgage brokering system in Australia. The company was listed in 2004 and Higgins is still a director and shareholder.
But it's no longer finance that floats Higgins' boat - and yes, he has a couple of those too, including a lovingly restored Camper & Nicholson yacht. Nowadays Higgins is the owner of the 450-acre home of Australian polo at Richmond, NSW, where he regularly hosts international teams on six international-standard fields.
He also travels the world playing polo, wielding the mallet in exotic locations from San Tropez to Buenos Aires. He has even saddled up with Prince William's team in England. And once played on a prince's horse at the Royal Jordanian Polo Club.
Higgins grew up in WA, where he used to ride horses on a friend's farm. He says he wanted to get into polo back in the 80s but it was just too difficult.
“These days there are clubs encouraging men and women of all ages into the sport, helping them rent horses and providing tips and techniques. That didn't exist 20 years ago,” he says.
The demographics have changed too, according to Higgins. “Most players used to come off the land where they learned to ride a horse while mustering cattle. But motorbikes eventually replaced horses. Today polo is more city-based and you find lots of young advertising executives, accountants, lawyers and stockbrokers entering the sport.”
It wasn't until moving to Sydney and kicking off Mortgage Choice that Higgins actually started thinking seriously about polo again. He eventually purchased The Sydney Polo Club, paying for the name and the prestigious trophy cabinet.
“This was Australia's first polo club, formed way back in 1876 and with Andrew 'Banjo' Patterson as a founding member,” says Higgins proudly.
He bought fields of rich, verdant farmland in Richmond at the foot of the Blue Mountains and relocated the club there, establishing undercover arenas, stables and breeding facilities.
And while polo might not attract the attention in Australia of the major sporting codes, there's no denying its appeal as a truly global sport, being played in around 77 countries (it was an Olympic event until 1939). The most important tournaments are played in Argentina, where it's practically a national obsession.
Higgins says polo is a great opportunity to network with other CEOs. “The business contacts I've made around the world from this sport are unbelievable,” he says. “On the other hand, because it's played on a Sunday, it still allows you to spend time with the family.
“And it doesn't always have to be flash; it can be quite down-to-earth. Two of my four kids were playing in a game last weekend. There were a few scruffy utes around the field and I couldn't see the kids for all the dust that was being swept up. There was no glamour whatsoever. There are certain tournaments throughout the year like that, that are serious, and then you have the ones that are more about the social scene.”
The Sydney Gold Cup on Sunday, October 20 is a combination of the best of both – polo and socialising. It's an annual tournament that Higgins has been running for the past decade. Because the opening scenes of the recently released film The Great Gatsby (featuring Joel Edgerton perched on a polo pony) were filmed at Higgins' property, a Gatsby theme has been adopted for this year's event, with attendees invited to dress in the style of the 1920s.
Yes it will be swanky, with lots of Sydney's movers and shakers expected to arrive en-masse. There will be some seriously expensive automobiles. Ferrari-Maserati Sydney are the main sponsors of the event, and Maserati will be showing off its new Quattroporte. There will also be vintage and new-release vehicles from Corvette, Aston Martin and Bentley, along with a Supercar Club display. G.H. Mumm champagne will be supplying the bubbles in the VIP grandstand. And there'll be a fashions on the field contest and celebrity bike polo at half-time.
“You don't have to spend a lot of money to have a great day out,” says Higgins. “Just turn up at the gate with a rug and a picnic and enjoy the spectacle.”
Gates open at 10.30am on Sunday and tickets and more information are available here.