You may be new to the game of golf and have no knowledge of the scoring system, or you could be a more seasoned golfer who has always wondered why their golf score can often sound more like something from the beginner’s guide to bird watching.
In this article, we dig deeper into the history and meaning of the golfing term “birdie”.
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”.
The History Behind The Birdie
It is believed that the term “birdie” has its roots in old American slang. “Bird” was a term used to describe something that was 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 of golf with their friend George Crump in Atlantic City. Ab Smith hit a peach of a second shot to within six inches of the 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 Atlantic City Country Club where the game between the brothers took place, actually 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, 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.
It didn’t take long for the term to catch on across the globe and 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 scoring terms used in the game of golf, however, scoring a birdie is not as common.
A birdie is a very good score, 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. The majority of birdies that are scored by players on tour are scored on the par-5’s.
With the distance most pro’s hit the ball today they can easily get onto a par-5 in two shots, and that gives them two further shots to be able to record a birdie on their scorecard.
The highest amount of birdies made in one round is 13. This record is currently shared by Chip Beck from back in 1991, and Adam Hadwin in 2017, when they each 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 actually only nine players ever to have achieved this. You can see the full list here.
Some Random Facts About The Birdie
- The term “double birdie” is sometimes used for a score of two under par on any given hole, however, the term more regularly used and recognized for this score is “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 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.
You now know the history of the term, what a “birdie” is, and how hard they can be to achieve. Knowing that even the tour pros score so few puts the game in perspective and should help you realize that the game is hard no matter how good you are.
Scoring birdies 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 Lomas is the founder of GolfSpan, an avid golfer, not quite a pro but has over 15-years of experience playing and coaching golfers from all over the world. His mission is to bring the golfing community a better experience then it comes to choosing the right golf gear, and finding the right set up for your game.