Last Saturday, August 6, The Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club hosted a riveting match between the Royal Jaipur Polo Team, featuring the Maharaja of Jaipur, His Highness Sawai Padmanabh Singh, and a Santa Barbara team. On a blissfully perfect Santa Barbara afternoon, before a crowd of about 300, the home team won 7-6.
Accompanying the Maharaja, 18, were his mother, Princess Diya Kumari; his Colombian girlfriend; and three members of his polo team. They traveled here at the invitation of their friends, Pat and Ursula Nesbitt, and stayed with them at their Bella Vista Ranch in Summerland.
“Pacho,” as the handsome Maharaja is affectionately known, ascended to the titular throne at age 13. He is passionate about polo and is already playing in major tournaments around the world. He just completed his studies in London, and while not having decided yet on a university, he is limiting his selection to London-based schools so he can continue playing at the Guards Polo Club there.
He may well have inherited his passion for the sport from his legendary grandfather, the late Brigadier Sawai Bhawani Singh, whom he succeeded on the throne. “Bubbles,” as he was known because of the champagne consumed at his birth, was a world-renowned polo player who played with Prince Charles and other high-profile players.
The Brigadier, who became the Maharaja in 1970, was actually the last one with legal recognition. In 1971, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi abolished by constitutional amendment the privy purses and privileges that had been guaranteed at Independence to princely states. While legal recognition has been stripped, the Maharaja still commands enormous respect and veneration throughout India because of the long history of princely states and the respect for tradition in the country. According to Ursula Nesbitt, who has visited the Maharaja in his home country, when she and her husband, Pat, travel with him in the country, privileges are extended to them at every turn.
Pat Nesbitt, whose ranch affords its own polo field, was one of the four players on the victorious Santa Barbara team. He is a current U.S. Polo Association governor and a past president. He is also the current ambassador of the Federation of International Polo. The other Santa Barbara team members were Jonathan Burrows, Joseph Stuart, and Marco Llambias.
The first evening, Ambassador Glen Holden and his wife, Gloria, hosted a dinner for the Maharaja and his entourage at Trattoria Mollie. In 1976, Holden played polo with the Maharaja’s grandfather “Bubbles” for the first time, and they quickly became good friends. Holden remains good friends with the family to this day. The former ambassador to Jamaica is a trustee of the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club and the field where the match was played was named in his honor.
Other highlights of the Maharaja’s social schedule included a luncheon at the Coral Casino hosted by Beverley Jackson, a good friend of the Maharaja’s family; a dinner hosted by Dr. Richard Caleel and his wife at their home; and a dinner hosted by Pat and Ursula Nesbitt at their Bella Vista Ranch.