China’s Polo Real Estate Dreams

Invites were apparently like golddust for a private polo tournament, sponsored by Rolls Royce, on June 9 in Tianjin. Only in China? Project with seemingly little economic sense get off the ground. The Metropolitan Polo Club in Tianjin being a case in point. Whereas most private member clubs tend to secure memberships before opening the Metropolitan has sold only 200 of an available 2000 memberships (around Rmb2 million a head) in the two years it’s been open.

Built by the Goldin Group, headed by Pan Sutong whose PR people say is “passionate about spreading the game of polo in China, the 222-acre facility features two finely manicured polo fields and a five star hotel/club house. All seemed very quiet on a May Saturday when I visited. The massive marble corridors were certainly empty and no one was dining at any of the restaurants – one of which is Le Pan, run by Michelin-starred chef Edward Voon. No one was buying anything in the Pro Shop either.

And while we waited for a bus to come drive us to the stables – given the scale of the Metropolitan it’s a hike from hotel to stables – we watched a few guests of the Mr Pan checking in for a complimentary five star experience. We also heard about the snow polo tournament held here during the winter, bringing 12 teams from around the world to compete on 4,000 cubic metres of snow pumped out by two snow machines and combed by two imported snow cats. “The surface was then watered for two nights to create a layer of ice,” according to an in-house magazine at the club.

Clearly no expense (or water) is spared at the Metropolitan which imported 75 horses from New Zealand and 25 from Australia to bulk its stables up to over 200 animals. Aside from over 1,000 staff the club’s residents currently include an Argentinean polo team. Yet I get the sense that there may be a lot more people living on-site in the coming years, in luxury apartments and villas. The club spends Rmb6,000 every month on each horse, and it shows: these are very well-maintained beasts living in smartly appointed stables.

One can only marvel at the political connections of the club in pulling off an event like the snow polo tournament, given political leaders in this semi-arid part of China have been pursuing a water conservation campaign for the past decade. Indeed two senior government members, bound by their Party to uphold Marxist and Leninist theory and socialism with Chinese characteristics” were full of praise for the snow polo event and the Metropolitan, which promises members they’ll be part of an “elite global network of a sport which remains “no less exclusive” than the days when polo was the pursuit of royalty and the world’s wealthiest capitalists.

It’s all about connections then. And real estate. I counted over a dozen tower blocks under construction on the club grounds, adjacent to several dozen villas also being built. Curiously the club manager insisted that Mr Pan made his money in electronics, not real estate. Yet the Wall Street Journal describes Mr Pan as chairman of Hong Kong-listed Goldin Properties Holdings Ltd. “an investment holding company that engages in property development business. Goldin will also build Tianjin’s tallest (office, mixed use) building on the Metropolitan grounds, according to Tianjin locals.

There’s no for sale sign up yet on the polo club properties but one can expect a premium can be charged for the privilege of living on the grounds of China’s most luxurious polo club.

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