It was the place to be on a Friday night in Fauquier County. The weather was perfect, and the stars twinkled. Laughter hung in the air as men and women shed work-week stress. Some couples sipped wine on grassy knolls, while others nibbled gourmet goodies at upscale tailgate spreads.

Oh, and the polo was pretty good, too.

"Twilight Polo," held at Great Meadow in The Plains, is the scene for Fauquier's summer meet and greet, where hundreds of locals and Washingtonians come every Friday evening to eat, drink and chatter against a backdrop of mallet-wielding polo players on horseback.

The social scene is one of the main draws of polo, which is growing in popularity across the country, said Chris Kelly, editor in chief of Polo Magazine.

"The fun of it is being able to arrive with family and friends and have your own lovely picnic and mingle with other people," Kelly said. "There's a lovely sort of garden party feel to it. It's not just show up at the game, have a beer and leave."

Sure, there are plenty of spectators who come mainly for the polo, who insist that polo is the best game on earth. It's easy to tell who they are. They're the ones intensely following every stride, every shot. They're the ones who let out a collective, "Oh, nice shot!" when a player scores a goal.

Tim Brown, who lives and works in Washington, received a free polo lesson from a friend last year and began taking formal lessons about two months ago. Now, he said, his dream in life is to move out to the countryside and play polo.

"If I won the lottery, I'd do this all day," Brown, 36, said as he watched a game at Great Meadow on a recent Friday night.

In fact, Brown is so into polo that he plans to build a wooden horse so he can take practice shots on his own time. He admits that his friends think he's nuts.

"They think the wooden horse is ridiculous," Brown said, chuckling. "And one of my friends says I'm an elitest snob."

But for most gathered at Great Meadow, the game of polo wasn't nearly as important as the sport of socializing. Clusters of friends who gathered around elaborate tailgate feasts watched the game out of the corners of their eyes. When a player scored a goal, they'd turn and clap, then return to the conversation.

The kids went crazy only when a player hit a ball out of the arena. The first one to find the ball and return it to the main booth got $1.

Candice Chevaillier, 24, came from Washington to hang out with friends at Twilight Polo. She said she enjoys the pleasant atmosphere.

"It's different than going downtown," Chevaillier said. "Somehow, it seems more wholesome than running around with tequila in your system."

The announcer, known only as Cowboy Bob, is a rugged, wiry man sporting a tattered cowboy hat, plaid shirt and jeans. He seems more rodeo than polo.

He downed a can of beer as he called the action. He knows polo like the back of his hand, he said, and he can predict moves even before players make them. Before the night's game began, he looked out at the crowd and smiled in amusement.

"I don't know what people are doing out here," Cowboy Bob said. "I guess people have nothing better to do on a Friday night. The nearest bar is 40 miles away."

He paused and cocked his head.

"There are two games going on here. One in there," he said, pointing into the arena. "And one out there."