Sports Illustrated recently featured a column in which several writers listed their favorite sports venues. This got me to thinking about which ballparks, arenas, and courses stood out in my mind as being above the rest. The following is my list of the top 25 sporting venues in the world.
1. Fenway Park – It just doesn’t get any better than a Boston summer night at Fenway. Just being in the same ballpark that Teddy Ballgame, Carlton Fisk, and Carl Yastremski played in is awe-inspiring. The Green Monster is more intimidating than any fastball could ever be for hitters. This to me is not just the Mecca of baseball stadiums, but the Mecca of sporting venues.
2. Yankee Stadium – It could be the 26 World Series trophies that are housed here. Or maybe it’s the numbers of some of the best to ever play that line left field. Perhaps it’s Babe Ruth’s bust looking over his team from center field. You could point to any number of things that make Yankee Stadium unique, and by putting it all together you have a national landmark.
3. Wimbledon – You have to love a place that holds even the world’s best tennis players to a strict dress code. Some of the best tennis matches ever have taken place at the All England Lawn and Tennis Club, including the most recent final between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
4. The Old Course at St. Andrews – Perhaps it is not as scenic as some of the other courses on this list, but none of them would even be around without The Birthplace of Golf. The bridge on the 18th is iconic. A plus is the museum next to the course that provides a history of golf’s origins.
5. Augusta National – Cue the music that we’ve all heard on CBS’s Masters commercials a thousand times. It never gets old. Amen Corner is perhaps the most daunting stretch of any golf course in the world. Even with inflation, the course still sells pimento cheese sandwiches for $1.50.
6. Wrigley Field – There are few experiences better than an afternoon game at Wrigley. Not a bad seat in the house, or even in the neighborhood. For a one of a kind experience buy a pair of tickets across the street on top of a building for a view that you can’t get anywhere else. If you listen really hard you can still hear Harry Caray.
7. Churchill Downs – The mystique of Churchill Downs is unmistakable. Maybe it’s the twin spires, or the big hats, or the mint juleps, but any way you slice it an afternoon spent here watching the races is a day well spent. “And down the stretch they come!” is perhaps the most recognizable play call in all of sports.
8. LA Coliseum – The only stadium in the world to host the Olympics, the World Series, and the Super Bowl. The Olympic torch at the entrance gives this stadium an epic feel. Southern Cal’s history of success, which includes 11 national titles and 7 Heisman Trophy winners, only adds to the Coliseum’s aura.
9. Rose Bowl – This one jumped way up in my book after the national championship between Texas and Southern Cal. One of the most incredible games ever, it is just one of many that was played here. The “Granddaddy of Them All” is the oldest bowl game and, outside of the national championship, the most prestigious.
10. Bryant-Denny Stadium – This may seem like a curious pick, but if you want a true taste of Southern football this is the place to go. A better tailgate than Ole Miss because the fans actually care about football, as evidenced by the hundreds of flat screen TVs on the Quad. The crowd is very football savvy and the “Traditions” video before the game sends chills up your spine.
11. Allen Fieldhouse – Steeped in history, this is the premier place to watch college basketball. Dr. Naismith and Phog Allen roamed these sidelines and set the tone for Kansas teams after they were long gone. Hearing the students chant Rock Chalk Jayhawk before tip off is surreal.
12. Boston Garden – The championship banners say it all. More NBA titles have been won on those famed parquet floors than any other building in the league. The stands are filled with intelligent, albeit obnoxious, fans that know the nuances of the game, which adds to the whole experiences.
13. Notre Dame Stadium – As old school as it gets when it comes to sports venues. I will never forget when the Irish grew out the grass for their game against Southern Cal in 2005. What better way to celebrate a touchdown than with Touchdown Jesus?
14. Cameron Indoor Stadium – I went to Cameron Indoor several years ago for an exhibition game. Not only was it a sell out, but it was also the loudest I’ve ever a basketball arena get. Did I mention it was an exhibition? The student section doesn’t let up at all and are notorious for getting in the heads of the opposition.
15. Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge – A Saturday night in Tiger Stadium is as much a cultural excursion as it is anything else. A game here has been described as Mardi Gras in a football stadium. Former quarterback Rohan Davey summed it up best when he said that walking out of the tunnel “you can hear the crowd explode. You can smell the bourbon.”
16. Lambeau Field – Sitting in the cold has never been so much fun. Fans can wait a lifetime and never get off the waiting list for season tickets and there is good reason why. The Frozen Tundra has been home to some of the greatest players and coaches of all time including Brett Favre, Bart Starr, and Vince Lombardi.
17. Anfield – The quintessential European soccer experience. Raise your red scarf high above your head and proudly sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” with 45,000 of your closest friends. You’ll be hard pressed to find more impassioned fans anywhere else in the world in any sport.
18. Vaught-Hemingway Stadium – This spot on the list is as much for The Grove as it is the stadium itself. As Ole Miss fans proudly proclaim, the football team doesn’t always win, but they’ve never lost a tailgate. So, enjoy a cocktail, show up late to the game, and win or lose put on a smile because the party never seems to stop in Oxford.
19. Rucker Park – Rucker Park is the most hallowed of ground in the Mecca of Hoops. The list of guys that have played here is absurd: Julius Erving, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, George Jervin, Kobe Bryant, Michael Beasley, and Kevin Love. Rucker Park, more so than anywhere else, will make or break a reputation.
20. Pebble Beach Golf Links – In terms of scenic views, I don’t know that there’s one on this list that could even compare. The 18th hole, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean, is breathtaking. Tiger Woods seems to like it, he won the 2000 U.S. Open here by 15 strokes. And if its good enough for Tiger, it’s good enough for me.
21. The Palestra – The home of Big Five basketball, The Palestra is a true gem of a sports venue. It plays host to Villanova, St. Joseph’s, La Salle, Pennsylvania, and Temple. Sitting in the 8,700 arena brings you back to the glory days of Philly basketball.
22. Lawrence Joel Veteran Memorial Coliseum – A sentimental favorite of mine. Much like Cameron Indoor, the LJVM will give you a true taste of life on Tobacco Road. Wake fans, along with most fans of the other Big Four schools in North Carolina, have a very high basketball IQ. Although Wake has never won a national title, its seen its share of greats take the court including Tim Duncan, Josh Howard, Randolph Childress, and Chris Paul.
23. AT&T Park – This is my runner up to Pebble Beach for most scenic view. McCovey Cove, which leads out to the Pacific Ocean, is jaw dropping. The cluster of canoes that sit in the Cove adds to the ambiance.
24. Estadio do Maracana – Maracana Stadium once seated 200,000, but has since been downsized to 95,000. Maracana, more so than any other venue on this list, is a walk on the wild side. It has a history of horrific events, including the upper level collapsing in 1992. The fans love their futbol though and they love to have a good time.
25. Howard Lamade Stadium in Williamsport – Lamade Stadium should remind everyone why we play sports in the first place. It gives adults perspective and it gives kids the feel of the big time, with a state of the art facility filled to the brim with fans. Truly a melting pot of cultures, Little League baseball made the right move to expand the number of teams in the tournament to give more kids the chance to play and hang out here.