What Is A Birdie In Golf? Facts & Best Birdies in History

You may be new to the game of golf and have no knowledge of the scoring system, or you could be an expert golfer who has always wondered why their golf score can often sound more like something from the beginner’s guide to bird watching.

What is a birdie in golf? A birdie in golf is a score of one stroke under par on an individual hole. It is considered to be a good score in golf, and golfers often celebrate it. Even professional golfers only average about 3-4 birdies per round. The term “birdie” is thought to have originated in the early 1900s, when it was used to describe a hole that was played particularly well. 

Read on to learn more about the history behind what a birdie means, interesting facts about the birdie, and what it is for each hole.

What Exactly is a Birdie in Golf?

Birdie is a golf term given to the score where you take one stroke less than the given par of any hole. Scores needed for a birdie will look like this in terms of the number of strokes:

  • Two shots on a par-3
  • Three shots on a par-4
  • Four shots on a par-5
  • Fives shots on a par-6 (Par-6’s are very rare, but they do exist, so the same principle would apply when trying to achieve a one-under-par score on this type of hole)

As an example, you may hear the term used in sentences such as this:

“John hit his second shot onto the par-4 tenth hole and has a 15-foot putt left for birdie”.

Or, “I need to birdie this hole to win the match.”

How can you get more birdies? Use the right putter. These putters are all under $100.

The History Behind the Birdie in Golf

To understand the meaning of birdie in golf, let’s look at the history. It is believed that the term has its roots in old American slang. “Bird” was a term used to describe something outstanding or excellent. It was the 19th-century equivalent of calling something “cool.”

In H.B. Martin’s “Fifty Years of American Golf,” it states that in 1899 two brothers, Ab and William P. Smith, were playing a round on the golf course with their friend George Crump in Atlantic City. Ab Smith hit a peach of a second shot to within six inches of the golf hole on a par-4 and is quoted to have said…

That was a bird of a shot, I suggest that when one of us plays a hole in under par, he receives double compensation.”

His brother and friend agreed Ab Smith went on to hole the putt, and all future scores of one-under-par were referred to as a “birdie.” The rest, as they say, is history!

The Term “Birdie” Was First Coined By The Smith Brothers

The Atlantic City Country Club, where the game between the brothers took place, dates the event to 1903, and they have a plaque at the club to commemorate this.

There are differing views on whether or not the term “birdie” originated even earlier than 1899, however, and there is no substantial evidence to back this theory up. Most golfing historians are convinced by the story of the Smith brothers creating the term during their round.

The term didn’t take long to catch on across the globe. A famous British golf writer, Bernard Darwin, wrote in a 1913 issue of Country Life after a recent trip to the US, It takes a day or two for the English onlooker to understand that … a ‘birdie’ is a hole done in a stroke under par.”

Birdies Are Hard To Score

It may be one of the more common golf scoring terms used in the game of golf. However, scoring a golf birdie on the golf course is not common.

A birdie is a good score, and one that you will see very few mid-handicappers scoring and even fewer high handicappers achieving. When one is scored, it is certainly worth celebrating.

If you look at these PGA Tour stats, you will see that the average number of birdies made by the top professional golfers per round is five. This should go some way in telling you just how hard a birdie is to achieve. Most birdies in golf that players on tour score are scored on the par-5s.

With the distance that most pros hit the ball today, they can easily get onto a par-5 in two shots, giving them two further shots to record a birdie on their scorecard.

The highest amount of birdies made in one round is 13. Chip Beck shares this record from back in 1991 and Adam Hadwin in 2017, when they shot 59.

And the world record for the number of consecutive birdies scored in a row during one round is nine. As of January 15th, 2020, there are also only nine players ever to have achieved this.

Read more: How to Keep Golf Scores

Some Random Facts About The Birdie

  • The golf term “double birdie” is sometimes used to score two under par on any given hole. However, the term more regularly used and recognized for this score is “Eagle.” You can also get two eagles, known as a Double Eagle.
  • A “birdie putt” is simply a term for a putt that, if made, results in a score of one-under-par for that particular golf hole
  • A “gross birdie” is achieved when you simply take one less shot than the par of the hole
  • And a “net birdie” is a birdie scored only after your handicap allowance has been applied to your score.
  • When you score a birdie and record it on your scorecard, it is common practice to then circle that score. For example, if you take three shots on a par-4, you will circle the “3” on your card.

8 Best Birdies in PGA Tour History

Birdies are common on the PGA Tour, but some are more memorable than others. Here are 10 of the best birdies in PGA Tour history:

1. Tiger Woods at the 2005 Masters, 16th Hole

Arguably one of the most iconic birdies in golf history, Tiger Woods’ chip-in on the 16th hole during the 2005 Masters is nothing short of legendary. From a nearly impossible position, Woods executed a perfect chip that took a dramatic pause at the lip of the hole before dropping in, creating one of the most memorable moments in golf.

2. Larry Mize at the 1987 Masters, 11th Hole

Facing Greg Norman in a playoff, Mize chipped in from 140 feet to secure an unlikely birdie and win the green jacket. It’s one of the most unforgettable shots, as few expected the ball to find the hole from that distance.

3. Payne Stewart at the 1999 U.S. Open, 18th Hole

Stewart sank an incredible 15-foot putt on the last hole to clinch the U.S. Open title, edging out Phil Mickelson. Stewart’s tragic death just months later makes this moment even more poignant.

4. Bob Tway at the 1986 PGA Championship, 18th Hole

Trailing Greg Norman, Tway holed a bunker shot for birdie on the final hole to win the PGA Championship, leaving the golf world in shock and marking one of the most surprising conclusions to a major championship.

5. Tom Watson at the 1982 U.S. Open, 17th Hole

Facing a challenging chip shot, Watson remarkably holed it for birdie. His spectacular shot on the 17th at Pebble Beach allowed him to surpass Jack Nicklaus and win the U.S. Open.

6. Tiger Woods at the 2000 PGA Championship, 18th Hole

With a six-foot putt to force a playoff against Bob May, the pressure was immense. Woods delivered, sinking the putt for birdie, and would later win in the playoff, solidifying his dominance in the sport.

7. Bubba Watson at the 2012 Masters, 10th Hole

Watson found himself in the trees in a sudden-death playoff against Louis Oosthuizen. However, he managed to hook a wedge from the pine straw onto the green, setting up a birdie putt, which he made to win his first green jacket.

8. Justin Leonard at the 1999 Ryder Cup, 17th Hole

With the U.S. team needing a half-point to complete a huge comeback against Europe, Leonard faced a mammoth 45-foot putt for birdie. Miraculously, he holed it, prompting wild celebrations from the American team, even before the hole was officially conceded.


What Exactly Is A Birdie?

Birdie is a golf term given to the score where you take one stroke less than the given par of any hole. Scores needed for a birdie will look like this:
* Two shots on a par-3
* Three shots on a par-4
* Four shots on a par-5
* Fives shots on a par-6 (Par-6’s are very rare but they do exist, so the same principle would apply when trying to achieve a one-under-par score on this type of hole)
As an example, you may hear the term used in sentences such as this:
"John hit his second shot onto the par-4 tenth hole and has a 15-foot putt left for birdie".
Or, "I need to birdie this hole to win the match".

Is a Par Better Than a Birdie? 

A par is not better than a birdie, and to understand why we will look at the meaning of the terms. When you score a par, it's what a professional golfer is expected to make on the course. On the other hand, a birdie is when you take fewer strokes than the par. 

What are Four Birdies in a Row Called?

They don't have a technical term for four birdies in a row, and they just call it "Four consecutive birdies." This only happens on rare occasions because even getting a single birdie proves difficult. 

Is Birdie Better Than Eagle in Golf?

An eagle happens when you score two birdies in a row, which makes it superior to a single birdie. You can also score a Double Eagle, and that score means that you scored 3-under par. 

Read more: The Best Putters for Beginners

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, this answers the question, “What is a birdie in golf?” You now know the history of the term, the golf birdie meaning, the best birdies in PGA history, and how hard they can be to achieve because of the number of strokes.

Knowing that even the tour pros score so few puts the game into perspective and should help you realize that the game is hard no matter how good you are. You still need to practice effectively if you’re a beginner or a pro.

Scoring birdies in golf are not needed to break scores of 80, 90, or 100. Yes, they are special, but they should certainly not be expected, so be sure to remind yourself and your playing partners of that next time you miss that birdie putt.

Nick is the founder of GolfSpan and an avid golfer. He's not quite a pro but has over 15 years of experience playing and coaching golfers worldwide. His mission is to bring the golfing community a better experience when it comes to choosing the right golf gear and finding the right setup for your game.

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