A horse trainer stands with polo horses during an intervarsity tournament match at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club in Tianjin, China, on July 16, 2016.
A horse trainer stands with polo horses during an intervarsity tournament match at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club in Tianjin, China, on July 16, 2016.Kevin Frayer—Getty Images
A horse trainer stands with polo horses during an intervarsity tournament match at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club in Tianjin, China, on July 16, 2016.
Chinese players from the Metropolitan Polo Club team, in white, and players from the U.S. and Great Britain play an exhibition match at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club in Tianjin, China, on July 17, 2016.
Chinese players from the Metropolitan Polo Club team, in white, and players from the U.S. and Great Britain play an exhibition match at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club in Tianjin, China, on July 17, 2016.
Players from the Cornell University polo team rest during a break in a match during the intervarsity tournament held at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club in Tianjin, China, on July 17, 2016.
Derek Reid, director of Polo Operations, gestures as he instructs young Chinese players from the Junior Polo Program during stick and ball training at a summer camp held at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club in Tianjin, China, on July 17, 2016.
Young Chinese players from the Junior Polo Program take a break during stick and ball training at a summer camp held at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club in Tianjin, China, on July 17, 2016.
A woman walks across the field with her children during a break in an intervarsity match at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club in Tianjin, China, on July 16, 2016.
Spectators watch a match between Chinese players from the Metropolitan Polo Club team and those visiting from the U.S. and Britain during the intervarsity tournament at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club in Tianjin, China, on July 17, 2016.
Young Chinese polo players from the Junior Polo Program learn riding skills at a summer training camp held at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club in Tianjin, China, on July 17, 2016.
Young Chinese players from the Junior Polo Program sit on wooden horses at a summer training camp held at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club in Tianjin, China, on July 16, 2016.
A young Chinese player form the Junior Polo Program practices riding at a summer training camp held at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club in Tianjin, China, on July 16, 2016.
Painted horse sculptures are seen in the stables at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club in Tianjin, China, on July 16, 2016.
A boy looks at the cup before a match at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club in Tianjin, China, on July 17, 2016.
A horse trainer stands with polo horses during an intervarsity tournament match at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo
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Kevin Frayer—Getty Images
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Inside China’s Exclusive Polo Clubs

Jul 27, 2016

Polo might have originated in Iran, but today, it’s closely associated with British and American aristocracies. The sport, which is played on horseback as two teams try to score goals using mallets, is a favorite of the British Royal family, but also of war heroes likes Winston Churchill and George Patton.

Now, an exclusive tranche of China’s society is taking a liking for the sport. In Tianjin, northeastern China, photographer Kevin Frayer stumbled upon the Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club, one of the country’s largest, when he was researching wealth “to try to understand what affluent Chinese were drawn to,” he tells TIME. “I was intrigued by the emergence of polo as a sport and a lifestyle here for the ultra rich.”

Known as the “sport of the kings,” polo has become a serious business for China’s wealthy. “[They] are sparing no expense,” says Frayer. “They have created world-class facilities with top trainers, experienced polo players and exceptional horses.” Of course, mastering polo takes more than just money. “Polo is not a Bentley or a yacht; you need to learn to ride a horse and swing a mallet and hit a ball. So the costs are huge,” the photographer adds.

Frayer, who has spent the last years documenting all strata of China’s society, is used extravagance when it comes to the country’s upper-class, but he was still taken aback by the sheer scale of this polo obsession. “In the middle of a huge city, suddenly there is this massive country-like estate with hundreds of horses and an entire infrastructure around polo,” he says. “It just comes up out of the ground and it is exquisite.”

Kevin Frayer is a photographer working for Getty Images. Follow him on Instagram @kevinfrayer.

Andrew Katz, who edited this photo essay, is an International Multimedia Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @katzandrew.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent.

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