POLO+10: Please tell us a little bit about your background. How did you come to work with Santa María Polo Club?
Juan Luis Gil: I started working with the club fourteen years ago, in the fields as a helper and I went on to complete an Executive Masters in Business Administration. Afterwards I was beginning to get involved with the company group that owns the club, step by step. We have a quite distinctive club organization, formed by an administrative direction, led by me, and a sports direction, led by Santiago Torreguitar (Polo Manager) and Tomás Fernández Llorente. This formula optimizes the overall functionality of the club. The past year we broke a new record of participating teams in our tournaments, and this year we are expecting the same, or even better. I am trying to apply a sense of logic to the organization of the club. The sports section, led by Tomás Fernández Llorente (+5), who played as a top +10 handicap player for many years, Santiago Torreguitar (+3) and Benjamín Araya, coordinating the referees, who once also reached a +10 handicap, works perfectly.
POLO+10: We have noticed that in Santa María Polo Club, the sport is more driven to its traditional side, rather than to polo of patrons; to have a purer polo, right?
JLG: Yes indeed, it is a little complicated, but we are always striving to give importance to the players, sometimes just as much as to the patrons. This year, as a new initiative, we are driving the attention towards the ponies as well. We will be introducing the names of the players and also those of the horses during the finals. We think it is fundamental to outline the importance of each part of a team: players, horses and patrons.
POLO+10: What do you think are the most important factors that make Santa María Polo Club the perfect polo destination to play off-season during winter and autumn in Europe? Which are the key factors that make Santa María different from other clubs?
JLG: Above all, we have been well-positioned thanks to our very hard work, trying to bring the best players and rising the handicap of our tournaments. Our club has many virtues, but I believe the weather is definitely one of our strongest points. The field conditions also position us as one of the best clubs, as they are taken care of all year round with the best products and technology possible for the high level maintenance of our world class fields. Our staff is also fundamental to the club. We have formed a team of world-renowned people, as I named before, Tomás Fernández Llorente, Santiago Torreguitar, Benjamín Araya and our green keeper Javier Gómez-Barquero. Regarding the service of referees, we bring the best referees in the circuit.
POLO+10: Which are the plans for the future for the club?
JLG: Essentially, to show the world that the winter-autumn season here can be very active, and one can play polo in optimum conditions, as during high season. We want to invite everyone to enjoy this weather and these wonderful fields all year round. We have also set up the Santa María Polo School, which has recently signed an agreement to collaborate with the Sotogrande International School to have cultural and polo exchanges with English schools, and we are trying to make the fees as competitive as possible. We are also setting up packages to facilitate top class polo training, with interesting activities for the family and great accommodation options, so that for example visitors from Germany can fly in just three hours to enjoy this wonderful weather, training, and the associated entertainment options. This year, for our Spring Opening Tournaments, we have created the 0 to +4 category to open the doors of the club to more participants.
POLO+10: By speaking to members and enthusiasts, we have found out that around here there are various clubs, that work together with Santa María Polo Club during high season, maybe you can explain this to us, this friendship sounds very interesting!
JLG: We are creating something similar to what happens in Pilar (Buenos Aires, Argentina). The clubs surrounding Santa María help us to accommodate part of the teams that are involved in the high season. When a tournament is organized, we all work together, creating this synergy to offer the best to the participants.
POLO+10: How do you prepare for the high season?
JLG: That is a very complicated question, with many, many answers. I have already outlined the structure with the people assigned to each task. To prepare for our tournaments during our high season, on top of our usual staff we employ extra waiters, security, referees, maintenance staff for all our installations and facilities, flagmen, timers and more.
POLO+10: Do you organize the sponsorship? The sponsors involved in this club are remarkable. How do you set that whole matter up?
JLG: We are in constant contact with every sponsor, in order to communicate the audience, players, and more participants. Our commercial division, Premium Sports and Marketing, takes care of the task of managing the sponsors and commercializing our venue and tournaments. Land Rover is also very content with last year’s results, and are again committed to another year since the end of the last high season.
POLO+10: Approximately, how many people attend the high season tournaments?
JLG: In 2013, a total of 72,000 people attended our tournaments. We are talking about a very high number of spectators, which involves a large organization plan, that must ensure their enjoyment and safety. We have become the quintessential polo location to be during the European-high season. Everybody can enjoy polo as entry to the tournaments is free of charge however there is a small entry fee for the Gold Cup final which is wholly donated to the Santa María Hippotherapy Foundation.
POLO+10: Finally, which is your analysis about the last season?
JLG: Personally, I am more than pleased with our latest results. The results were excellent and last season was incredible. The public was very pleased with the outstanding level of sport offered and were also entertained by other complementing activities and facilities such as the surrounding restaurants, the After Polo, shops, events, etc. And of course, one has to leave room for constructive criticism, we have to keep working, keep improving and keep optimizing the organization. We have ambitious goals, but we are certain we can achieve them. Essentially, we want both teams, the audience, and ourselves to enjoy the experience as much as possible.