Multiple whirring helicopter blades spun along the north field of the grounds, dropping celebrities and other VIPs from the Los Angeles area who were anxious to avoid the high-society gridlock on local roads and Highway 101.
And right on time around noon, one helicopter arrived that turned the atmosphere into a pitched frenzy as the Royal Couple settled onto the grounds and the festivities began in earnest for The Foundation Polo Challenge charity polo match.
Flash bulbs burned bright as the rapid-fire click of cameras shot across the 150-foot red carpet at the beautiful polo grounds located between the Santa Ynez Mountain foothills and the Pacific Ocean.
Kate arrived with a bright smile in another of the stunning dresses that she has become famous for on her first trip to the United States. Her dress by Jenny Packham was gray silk with white flowers and gold leaves, and she glided across the red carpet with her hair flowing in a light wind that was clearing the morning fog.
William strode beside his wife, dressed in a traditional blue blazer with white trousers and white shirt. He smiled at the mass of onlookers, looking seemingly excited about his first visit to Santa Barbara and eager to play in the polo match, a sport that he often enjoys with his brother, Prince Harry.
Ambassador Glen Holden and his wife, Gloria, followed the Royal Couple on the red carpet. As a trustee of the Santa Barbara Polo Club, Holden is responsible for the initial inspiration for the day’s events, which were conceived as a way to kick off the club’s 2011 season.
Holden is a local retired polo player who played both with and against Prince Charles over the years. Two years ago, Holden wrote a letter to Prince Charles asking if one of the young princes would like to honor the Santa Barbara Polo Club with a visit during its centennial celebration.
“At that time I didn’t know there would be a royal wedding,” Holden said. “It’s an honor to have them here on one of their first trips together.”
Established in 1911, the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club is the third-oldest polo facility in the United States and showcases three world-renowned polo fields.
“This club is considered one of the top four in the world, so it is very special,” Holden said.
After the red-carpet walk, the Royal Couple was escorted to seating within a large white tent for lunch as everyone in the crowd stood tall for a glimpse at history.
Acclaimed chef Giada De Laurentiis prepared a gourmet lunch inspired by family recipes with dishes that included sweet corn lasagna with blistered tomatoes, as well as pea pesto and beef tenderloin crostini.
Around the polo grounds in the surrounding condominiums, onlookers also joined in the good times with festive BBQs. But inside the tent, 600 attendees fortunate enough to purchase the $4,000 club tickets were provided with a rare VIP opportunity to dine with the royals.
VIP tables were lined with linens fashioned after the iconic blue Tiffany & Co. color, and a variety of white flowers were used to represent the white Tiffany bow. VIPs also had access to a private reception with players, valet parking courtesy of Audi and reserved stadium seating on each side of the historic clubhouse facing Holden Field.
The crowd was filled with Hollywood celebrities and Santa Barbara notables including Rob Lowe, Rosario Dawson, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Nicolette Sheridan, Alex Pettyfer, Karlie Kloss and Molly Sims, who all joined in this unique event.
Across the field from the clubhouse is where another 2,000 excited spectators climbed into temporary bleacher seating on Polo Fields 2 and 3 with the more than 700 media members in attendance from all over the world.
Susan Dossett flew down from San Francisco on Friday morning to see the royal polo match with her 10-year-old daughter, Clara. The elated pair was all smiles as they quickly found their seats in the front row facing the field.
“My daughter and I got up early to watch the royal wedding so we are very excited to be a part of this special event,” said Dossett. “It’s a memorable thing for us to do together.”
And VIP or not, everyone at the charity match came dressed to impress. Women were clad in lavish flowing dresses and an array of colorfully stylish wide-brimmed hats. Men also solidified the meaning of California casual attire in sports blazers and cotton button-down shirts with trendy fedora hats and high-end designer sunglasses.
Around 2 p.m., an enthusiastic response was given to the National Anthem sung by José Rubio, baritone from the Music Academy of the West, and the Foxfield Color Guard as everyone could sense that the games were about to begin.
Thousands of wildly cheering spectators lined the bleachers overlooking the field and erupted in applause as the teams were introduced.
Princess Kate was seated in the top row of the right grandstand where she was joined by the Holdens.
For Prince William, this was his first polo match played overseas and he suited up in a blue jersey wearing the number 4 and playing the safety position for the Foundation Team supported by Royal Salute.
The high-profile charity match was organized with three teams playing six chukkers in a round-robin tournament against Team Audi, currently ranked second in the World Polo Tour standings, and Team American Express Centurion with U.S. Polo team captain Nic Roldan.
Yet even with a charitable tone, the championship game was a hard-fought match. And trailing 2-0 in the championship game it was Prince William who took over the game, scoring four goals to crown the Foundation Team winners over Team Audi, 5-3.
An awards presentation followed at which Princess Kate presented the Foundation Team with a custom-designed trophy by Tiffany & Co. in sterling-silver cast with horse-head handles and decorative bands of horseshoe motifs. The princess also presented each player with a Tiffany & Co. gift.
Prince William was the last one to take the stage after his teammates and his wife greeted him with a congratulatory kiss as onlookers cheered loudly.
A group photo was also taken of all the participating polo players before the royal couple was whisked away to an awaiting helicopter for a return flight to Los Angeles for another fundraiser Saturday night,
Proceeds from the charity polo match will go to The American Friends of The Foundation of Prince William and Prince Harry, a charitable organization the brothers created in 2011 that supports disadvantaged children, sustainable resources and conservation, and the support of veterans and military families. A donation will also be made to the Polo Training Center Santa Barbara.
Between admissions and sponsorships, the Santa Barbara event was expected to raise around $4 million.
Before the match, Prince William said during a short news conference that he’s competitive and “a return depends on the result today.” So after his championship victory and and a fairy-tale ending, we can only hope that Santa Barbara is graced with another visit soon.