A Hurricane in Skaneateles

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.

* * *

Photo above: Robert Skene in 1939, photographed for Life magazine by Alfred Eisenstaedt

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3 thoughts on “A Hurricane in Skaneateles

  1. Kihm, you’ve done it again! Mr. Haas was great friends with my grandfather Tommy Glynn and our families spent a lot of time together. I was the flower girl in Mr. Haas’ oldest daughter Suzie’s wedding when she married Peter Orthwein…Peter is a polo player, you may of heard of his team, Air Stream?

    Thanks so much for this!

    • Egads. I hadn’t realized that your grandfather was Tommy Glynn, winner, as I’m sure you know, of the Iglehart Award for Lifetime Contributions to the Sport of Polo. The Museum notes, “Tommy Glynn was a true treasure of the American polo scene. He not only was a fount of knowledge about the Golden Era of the sport, he was an able promoter of the game. It was with his help that polo remained alive in the Northeast after the disruptive years of World War II. He was the consummate mentor, and many players and fans owe their introduction to polo through Mr. Glynn’s patient and skillful efforts… Mr. Glynn was also known as a consummate trainer of polo ponies. Many have remarked that he had an incredible set of hands that could work wonders with even the most difficult horses. Among his accomplishments, Tommy Glynn won the Indoor Intercollegiate Championship as a member of the Harvard Team in 1929… He remained involved in club affairs, particularly in the New York and Connecticut areas, and was an integral part of the Greenwich Polo Club.” I am in awe.

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