What Is 'Rub of the Green' in Golf?

"Rub of the green" is an expression that, until December 31, 2018, appeared in the Rules of Golf. As of January 1, 2019, it is no longer used by the governing bodies (R&A and USGA).

So the first answer to the question, "what is rub of the green," is that it is an archaic expression no longer used in the golf rules.

OK, fine, so what was a "rub of the green" in golf?

'Rub of the Green' in the Rule Book

"Rub of the green" appeared in the pre-2019 rule book in Rule 19-1, which stated: "If a player’s ball in motion is accidentally deflected or stopped by any outside agency, it is a rub of the green, there is no penalty and the ball must be played as it lies."

You can probably guess the meaning from the context: "Rub of the green" was used by the governing bodies as a sort of shrug of the shoulders, a "hey, whaddaya gonna do about it?"

Oh, something happened? It's a rub of the green, nothing to do about it, accept it and move on. Those are breaks, in other words.

In the new (2019-and-forward) rule book, Rule 11.1a is the equivalent of the old Rule 19-1, and now reads this way: "If a player’s ball in motion accidentally hits any person or outside influence: There is no penalty to any player."

The same ruling, except the archaic expression "rub of the green" is no longer used.

Origins of the 'Rub of the Green' Expression

"Rub of the green" is actually one of older expressions in golf. But it didn't originate in golf.

First, the word "rub" is an archaic term for an accident, whether bad or good. And the exact phrase "rub of the green" originated in the game of lawn bowling, dating at least to the 1500s. It meant any obstacle or imperfection on the bowling green that affected the rolling of the ball. Basically the same thing it was later used to mean in golf!

The Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms cites an 1812 St. Andrews regulation as an old usage of the exact phrase: "Whatever happens to a ball by accident must be reckoned a rub of the green."

The same source includes a golf rhyme from 1793 that went like this:

While round the links our balls we play,
What tho' with rubs we sometimes meet,
We still push on, all brisk and gay,
Such chances make the game more sweet.
The author of that poem had a very sanguine attitude about the ol' rub. Whether a modern golfer has such a good attitude about an accidental deflection of a ball by an outside agency likely depends on where the ball ultimately comes to rest.

While the term "rub of the green" is no longer used in the golf rules, such accidents, for good or bad, will always be with golfers.

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