Devil Ball Classic: Legends, lore and lost balls at the Island Green

We created Devil Ball exactly three years ago, and this was my very first post. Isn't that precious? Here, check it out ...

There may be more difficult holes on the PGA Tour than the 17th at Sawgrass, but none are more famous, more photographed, and more threatening. Oh, sure, the 17th  looks all serene, especially when it's framed in one of those corporate message frames with a caption like "DEDICATION" or "TRANQUILITY." (Never "WET AGAIN? DAMMIT!" OR "HOW MANY BALLS DO I HAVE LEFT?", which would be a lot more appropriate.)

The Island Green is the centerpiece not just of this weekend's Players Championship, but of golf itself. We could bog down in some turgid Jim Nantz metaphor about supreme risk for ultimate reward, but you don't want to read that nonsense. Instead, let's take a look at some of the ways the legend of the 17th reaches far beyond Ponte Vedra:

• Tiger caused a bit of a stir this time last year when he called the hole "gimmicky," implying that all it was lacking was a windmill and a coupon for a free game. Since there was no championship on the line, Phil Mickelson had no problem standing up to Tiger and saying it was part of "the most exciting finish in golf."

• There's a dude buried at the 17th. Well, not really buried, more like "spread." Longtime caddy Brad "The Russian" Krosnoff requested that his ashes be scattered in the waters around the 17th, and after his passing in 2003, friends complied.

• Did you know that the 17th is a metaphor for American culture? It's true, according to this article. Unless it's a metaphor for Iraq. Or something. Let's move on.

• More than 120,000 golf balls hit the drink around the 17th every year. And who fishes 'em out? Divers, who re-sell them for up to a buck apiece and can earn six figures for the salvage effort.

• Several replicas of the hole exist. One's out in Texas, part of the infamous Tour-18 course, the wax museum of golf. There, the 17th is the 9th, so you've got plenty of time to recover from a crappy hole. What's up with that? And last year, a scaled-down replica of the hole — a 30-yard pitch onto a tiny green — toured New York City, and gave golfers an idea of how Cloverfield would fare playing the hole.

• Of course, you can always play the real deal yourself and give #17 a go for only about three bills. To me, though, Sawgrass is leaving money on the table with that arrangement. Why not pick one day a month — heck, one a year — and open the 17th up to anybody with a stick and fifty bucks? You get five shots at the green, and then adios till next year. It's flawless!

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