In July of 1973, the Skaneateles Polo Club hosted the United States Polo Association’s Northeast Circuit Eight-Goal championship at the polo field on Andrews Road. The tourney winner was the Fairfield County Hunt Club of Westport, Connecticut, a team which included future polo Hall of Famer George Haas.
But most notably, the umpire/referee was Charles Robertson “Hurricane Bob” Skene, surely the greatest polo player to ever trot onto the field in Skaneateles.
Skene was born in India, the son of an Australian planter. His father taught him the game, and as a young man he played in England for an Australian team, then was chosen for the British Westchester Cup team.
When WWII came, duty called and he enlisted in an Indian regiment; he arrived in Malaya one week before the fall of Singapore. He spent the next three years in a Japanese prison. In 1949, he returned to polo, as if he had never been away, playing for Britain against Argentina. In 1950, he moved to the U.S., playing for and managing the Beverly Hills Polo Club; in 1960, he became the manager of the Santa Barbara Polo Club.
Skene held a 10-goal ranking, the highest there is, for 17 years. He won three U.S. Opens, and twice played and won for Argentine teams in the Argentine Open. He was swept into the U.S. Polo Hall of Fame in 1990 in the first round of nominations.
In 1972 and 1973, already a legend, Skene toured U.S. polo clubs, sharing his knowledge of the sport. He was in Skaneateles from July 15th to July 22nd, 1973. He gave an umpire’s clinic, and acted as umpire for the tournament. Margaret Chase, who was timing the matches, remembers Skene as a very confident, very self-possessed man who knew who he was and what he could do, but who wasn’t at all affected by it.
When not on the field, Skene would sit in the booth and, with just a trace of an Australian accent, give a quiet, insightful, running commentary on the play. Chase said that it was an extraordinary education.
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Photo above: Robert Skene in 1939, photographed for Life magazine by Alfred Eisenstaedt