What is a Bogey in Golf? Golfing Terms Explained for Everyone

The origin of many of golf terms stems from the early 1900s and provides for interesting reading with some amusing stories.

If you ask golfers what a bogey means, many will respond with the 1-over par explanation, but few will be able to explain the origins and how it relates to par.

Bogey, like so many other golfing terms, has 2 connotations dependent on the period in history and context that you refer to. To put the term in perspective, I will delve into the history which will hopefully clear up any misunderstanding.

What Exactly Is A Bogey?

The concept of bogey was invented in 1890 by Mr. Hugh Rotherham, then secretary of the Coventry Golf Club. The idea behind this was to set a standard score for good golfers on every hole. This was called the “ground score”.

Although the term “par” was also used at the time it referred to the ’perfect’ score on a hole. Par was a popular measurement in the US whereas bogey was trending in the UK.

Every golf club was left with the responsibility to assess and define bogey or ground score and the implementation varied between golf clubs.

As golfers improved in ability and equipment scores reduced and the better golfers would sometimes aim for par rather than bogey.

Par and bogey scores of each hole were often the same but sometimes the bogey score for the most difficult holes would be one over par hence the use of bogey in the modern context.

Some more traditional golf clubs still show the bogey score and a par score on their scorecard and there are still bogey competitions held regularly. Generally, the bogey score for a round will be approximately 5-6 shots higher than par.

When developing the frequently used Stableford scoring system, Dr. Frank Stableford points were awarded against bogey, not par. 2 points were awarded on a hole if you matched the bogey score under Dr. Stableford’s original system

The use of the term “par” dates back to the early 1900s. The length of the hole determined the par of each hole.

The USGA originally determined that each par designation would allow for 2 putts and the remainder of par is dependent on the number of shots required to get to the green. Par was calculated as

  • Holes up to 225 yards would be a par 3
  • Holes between 225 and 425 yards would be a par 4
  • Holes of 426 to 600 yards would be a par 5
  • Holes longer than 600 yards would be a par 6

What we have established by now is that the term bogey refers to 1 shot over par.

Where Does The Term “Bogey” Come From?

Some versions of the origin of the term “bogey “, indicate that it originated from Scotland although there are different versions of this.

  • One version credits Major Charles Wellman remarked that a player was “a regular Bogey man”
  • Another version ascribes the term to Scottish slang for goblins or devils.
  • Other versions suggest that the term is derived from an English dance hall song titled “The Bogey Man” which included the lyrics, “I’m the Bogey Man, catch me if you can.”
  • Yet another version suggests that includes the same song is that a certain Dr. Browne, Secretary of the Great Yarmouth Club, embraced the term and the club’s golfers agreed to the use of the term. It is said that during a competition Mr. CA Wellman bellowed to Dr. Browne that “This player of yours is a regular Bogey man”.

Now that we have attempted to determine where the bogey originated and who was possibly responsible for the common use of the term, let us look at the variations of the term for increments of over-par scores.

To record a bogey, you have to score 1 shot more than the regular par score set by the golf club for the specific hole.

  • On a par 3, a score of 4 will be called a bogey
  • On a par 4, a score of 5 will be called a bogey
  • On a par 5, a score of 6 will be called a bogey
  • On a par 6, a score of 7 will be called a bogey

Unlike scores below par having different avian terms, the bogey remains the only term used for scores over par.  Some golfers have tried to get the term “buzzard” accepted for a double bogey, but this has not become common use.

Scoring 2 over par is called a “double bogey”, 3 over par a triple bogey, 4 over par a quadruple bogey, 5 over par a quintuple bogey, and higher scores, which you are unlikely to score, follows the trend.

Professional golfers are often frustrated when scoring a bogey but the average golfer with a handicap between 16 and 20 is expected to score a bogey on every hole.

The USPGA sets the average golf handicap at 15. These golfers are often called “bogey golfers”. Since most golfers can score par on some holes it is common to see some double or triple bogeys on the card at the end of the round.

In Conclusion

I hope that this article shed some light on where the bogey originated and how it became a 1 over par score as it is used to today.

To do a more in-depth investigation into the history and terms used in golf with all the quirks associated with it, you can find more information in Robert Browning’s History of Golf 1955.

Enjoy your next round and leave the doubles and triples for later when you drown our sorrows or celebrate your excellent round on the 19th hole.

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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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