Sports' top 10 venues

So many famous sports venues have disappeared. We've lost Boston Garden and Chicago Stadium. The Montreal Forum is now a mall of shops, restaurants and a movie theater. The Toronto Maple Leafs don't play at Maple Leaf Gardens. Philadelphia's Spectrum no longer houses the Sixers or Flyers, and the Great Western Forum no longer is the home of the Los Angeles Lakers or Kings. Tiger Stadium, Old Comiskey Park, the Orange Bowl and RFK Stadium are gone. And the latest of the defunct classic venues might have been the most famous: old Yankee Stadium, which has been replaced by new Yankee Stadium. We're losing our sports meccas. But a few still are left, venues that every sports fan should see. Here are 10 favorites, including one you are seeing quite a bit of this weekend.

Augusta National Golf Club

In east-central Georgia, the home of the Masters is the most revered golf course on the planet. The meticulously manicured greens and fairways are surrounded by trees estimated to be about 150 years old. Creeks run through a course that has ponds and shrubs in full bloom this time of year. Each hole is named for a tree or shrub near that hole. And there are the 11th, 12th and 13th holes, which make up "Amen Corner,'' the most famous piece of real estate in golf. Pure golf heaven.

Churchill Downs

When you think of horse racing, how can you not think of those twin spires sitting atop the grandstand at this track in south Louisville, Ky.? While the rich people sip their mint juleps in the swanky boxes, the common folk swig beer in the infield that resembles a mosh pit. Between the groups is the most famous 1-mile dirt track in horse racing, the playing field of the Kentucky Derby. Churchill Downs opened in 1875 — just 10 years after the end of the Civil War. And it remains one of the most hallowed grounds in sports.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway

The track opened in 1909, and a year later it got its famous nickname — the Brickyard — after 3.2 million paving bricks were laid to make the track. Today asphalt covers the track except for a 3-foot strip of the original bricks, which makes up the starting-finish line. The speedway that hosts the Indianapolis 500 is officially a national landmark. It was named a National Historic Landmark in 1987. Then there's this: It can hold 400,000 people for a race, making it the highest-capacity sporting venue in the world.

Fenway Park

The oldest ballpark in the majors, opened in 1912. The nuances of the Green Monster, Pesky's Pole and the Triangle in centerfield make it unique and charming, but what makes it legendary is that you can sit in the stands, look down on the field and say that Ted Williams used to stand there. And Babe Ruth stood over there. And Carl Yastrzemski played over there. And you can keep going until you've covered practically every player who has played in the American League. Drop the whole thing in the middle of a city neighborhood and you have one of the coolest neighborhoods in America.

Wrigley Field

Home of the loveable-loser Cubs since 1914, Wrigley Field is the closest thing baseball has to a field of dreams. The red-brick wall becomes covered by deep green ivy as spring rolls into summer. A massive manual scoreboard in centerfield with a big clock overlooks the bleacher bums and transports everyone to 1939. Some of the charm was lost when lights were added in 1988, but Wrigley remains the classic American ballpark.

Madison Square Garden

MSG has had a few face-lifts over the years, but it remains "The World's Most Famous Arena.'' In the heart of Manhattan, a few blocks from Times Square, the Garden has been home to the best concerts, circuses, awards shows and political conventions. But it's most famous for sports, from great boxing matches to the Knicks and Rangers to college basketball. The buzz inside on game night is palpable, fitting for the electricity you always feel in New York City.

All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club

Founded in 1868, this club hosts the most famous tennis tournament in the world: Wimbledon. The club remains exclusive. It has fewer than 400 full members, but for two weeks every summer, the world peeks in on the grass lawns with the players wearing the best tennis whites and royalty sitting in a private box just above center court. Some see the All England Club as quaint and noble, while others see it as snobbish and stiff. But everyone sees it as the most famous tennis club on the planet.

The Palestra

College basketball has a number of arenas that capture the excitement of college basketball: UCLA's Pauley Pavilion, Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium, Indiana's Assembly Hall and Kentucky's Rupp Arena. The Palestra isn't an arena. It's a gym. It opened on New Year's Day 1927 and holds 8,722 for basketball. It is the home gym of the Penn Quakers, but each year it hosts matchups among Philadelphia's Big Five: Penn, Villanova, LaSalle, St. Joseph's and Temple. Cramped, old, loud — and those are good things. No wonder it's called "The Cathedral of College Basketball.''

Notre Dame Stadium

Notre Dame's football program is in a rough patch, but its tradition remains as rich as any in sports. And this what Notre Dame calls home, a stadium that isn't much different from when it was built in 1930. It's a simple bowl with natural grass and no fancy emblems in the end zones. Its most famous characteristic isn't even inside the stadium. It's the mural of "Touchdown Jesus'' on the side of a nearby library. But as Rudy's dad says in the movie, "This is the most beautiful sight these eyes have ever seen.''

Lambeau Field

Lambeau Field is to pro football what Notre Dame Stadium is to college football. No bells. No whistles. If the new Cowboys stadium is the Taj Mahal of the NFL, then Lambeau Field is its trailer. But that simplicity and the passion of Packers fans make it the true mecca of professional football. Built in 1957, it was the first stadium built for the exclusive use of an NFL team, and it's the second-oldest stadium in the league, after Chicago's Soldier Field (though the Bears didn't move there until 1971). The Packers have called Lambeau home for more than 50 years, and we hope they'll be there for 50 more.

Sports' top 10 venues 04/11/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 11, 2009 7:32pm]

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