NCG’s Golfing Glossary: The rub of the green

News & Tour

Who knew this golfing term dated back to England's most famous playwright?

Not all golf terms have to be obscure, and in the course of your career you may find yourself using them in everyday life.

 

But what happens when someone questions your usage of a particular phrase, enquiring perhaps as to where it originated?

 

Well fear not, traveler, because here at National Club Golfer we’re the publication for the everyday player and so we’ve taken it upon ourselves to give you a step-by-step introduction to the wonderful world of the golfing lexicon.

 

 

 

Phrase: Rub of the green

 

What I think it means:

 

As we discovered the other week, there’s a lot more to greens than you might first imagine. Everything possible is done to mean that nothing is left to chance. They’re drained, ironed, trimmed impeccably short and manicured to such a degree to ensure any putt holes or misses purely on the skill of the player.


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But that isn’t always the case, and a shot may be hindered, or benefit, from what is known as the ’rub of the green’.

 

In modern usage the phrase basically refers to luck, whether good or bad – but where did the term come from?

 

After all, no one has ever literally rubbed the green, have they?

 

 

Dictionary definition:

 

“An unexpected bounce of the ball after it hits the ground.” – Peter Alliss, Alliss’ 19th Hole: Trivial Delights in the World of Golf

 

In his definition, Alliss takes the ball away from specifically the green, and places it anywhere on the course, meaning the phrase can be applied for any fortuitous bounce.

 

But what was the original meaning?

 

Well it turns out, William Shakespeare has something to say about it…


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Origins:

 

“Twill make me thinke the World is full of Rubs,” wrote Shakespeare in Richard II, way back in 1593.

What the Bard was referring to was actually the game of bowls, when a ’rub’ was any hindrance or impediment that diverted the bowl from its proper course.

 

As anyone who’s studied his Elizabethan England knows – Sir Francis Drake playing when the Spanish Armada was spotted in the Channel – bowls was already a popular sport by this time.



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But Shakespeare would repeat his use of the word rub in one of his most famous speeches – Hamlet’s ’To be or not to be’, suggesting the phrase had already come into use to mean a general obstacle.

 

“To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;

 

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come.”

 

It doesn’t take much of a leap, therefore, for the phrase to transfer into golf.

  

But why then does the phrase also include mention of ’the green’ if it doesn’t refer to the putting area?

 

Actually, any rules official will tell you that ’the green’ in golf can refer to much more than just the putting surface, as in the phrase ’through the green’. Similarly, the green in bowls is the entire playing area.

 
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And so to The Rules of Golf, published in 1812 by the Society of St Andrews Golfers. The rules state:

 

“Whatever happens to a Ball by accident, must be reckoned a Rub of the green”.

 

The rest, as they say, is history.

 

 

If you do want a giggle, check out last week’s golfing glossary, when we discovered the fascinating history behind the word ’birdie’. You can read all about it be clicking here.

 

 

 

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