Almost a polo team full of presidents

MR PRESIDENT: Bruce McKelvie, of fine polo stock.
MR PRESIDENT: Bruce McKelvie, of fine polo stock.

It was almost inevitable that another of the McKelvie dynasty would one day assume the top post in New Zealand polo.

Bruce McKelvie, 60, is that man, in his second year as New Zealand Polo Association president.

His father John was president in the early 1980s and grandfather Rex in the early 1960s.

The McKelvies are almost born into the sport, dating back more than a century, the backbone of the Rangitikei Polo Club which plays most of its games on the family spread of Pukemarama at Tangimoana.

"They don't all ride but there are always horses there," Bruce said.

He has a son in Wellington and a daughter in Melbourne who he says have made more out of computer work than he has as a farmer.

Being a small sport, there are no strangers which is why McKelvie hasn't found the president's job too onerous.

"I chair the meetings. It's all fun; they're all mates," he said.

"We've got up to 350 registered players and that's as big as we've ever been."

He qualified that by saying the standard of play gas got lower thanks to professionalism, marketing having taken over at the expense of excellence.

"The good players leave the country and don't play a very high standard of polo overseas."

Mostly wealthy patrons employ the players and the team handicap seldom exceeds 12. When McKelvie and others of his ilk were amateurs, 20-goals teams were common.

Individually though, he says professionals like John Paul Clarkin is as a good a player as New Zealand has had.

Outside of polo, brother Ian McKelvie, now the member of parliament for Rangitikei, has the public profile.

"We were lining him up to be the New Zealand president when he became the [Manawatu District Council] mayor," Bruce laughed.

He was the national vice president at the time. In his youth, Ian was into rugby, playing for Waikato under-21s whereas Bruce played for Te Kawau and Halcombe.

Father John was a 6-handicapper and recent pro Angus, Ian's son, has got as high as five. Ian got to six , and Bruce to five, played in New Zealand Opens, but one feat they never achieved was to win the Savile Cup, the national title.

Three times their Rangitikei team, playing in chocolate in those days, reached the final and twice they went to extra time. Not until 2001, a gap of 95 years, did the next generation get it done.

Bruce toured Zimbabwe and England with Central Districts teams, combining holidaying with their sport.

"No one ever paid me to play a game of polo," he said.

While Ian had knee troubles from his rugby days, Bruce had a more serious mishap as a 20-year-old. When practising one day on the Bulls polo ground, an opponent's stick ran up his stick and he lost an eye.

As he said, "I had two; that was all right. It affected my distance perception but I learnt how to get round it."

He played until he was 43, flew through the air a few times, but "nothing fatal". He happily plays golf at Feilding, where he lives when not milking the cows at Rongotea.

Younger brother Mark had a horse land on his back which did damage and his son Ben serves on the New Zealand Polo management committee.

The game has barely changed, although fibreglass sticks are used now.

"The way we used to play, I'd smash them to pieces," Bruce said.

Back then the old ryegrass fields meant for fast polo, although rain could turn them into bogs. Now there is a beautiful couch field at Kihikihi where New Zealand will host a test against South Africa, probably with 26-goal teams, this year.

Manawatu Standard