Dec 02, 2022
POSTED BY: Nicholas Venditti

What Is a Birdie in Golf?

You’re watching a stunning performance by a professional golfer when the commentators say that play was a birdie. What does it mean?

If you’re a golf enthusiast keen on learning the terminology and history of this beautiful sport, you’re in the right place. As with any game, golf has its own language. It can be confusing for beginners, especially if you’re unsure which ones are good and bad. We’re here to clear that all up for you. Let’s start with the term “birdie.”

What Is Considered a Birdie in Golf?

Before you can understand a birdie, you'll need to know what “par” is. 

Each hole has a difficulty rating known as a “par.” The par factors in the distance in yards and other obstacles, but essentially, it refers to the predetermined number of strokes a golfer will need to complete the hole if they are proficient. For example, a par-4 means a proficient golfer would need four strokes to get the ball in the hole. The term initially came about in reference to stocks but eventually came to mean the ideal score for a hole. 

How does a “birdie” come into that? Well, a birdie is a term used to describe a play completed in one stroke less than the par.

Some people confuse any score under par with a birdie. However, that isn’t what the term means. It's only a birdie if the hole is completed one stroke under par. There are other terms for scores below that remit, but that's for another time.

The History of the Birdie

If you're thinking about how this is a strange way to name sporting terms, you aren't the first, and you won't be the last. However, when it comes to the birdie, we can at least look back on history and find out where the term came from first!

Golf historians have managed to pinpoint the phrase to a time between 1899 and 1903. There are disputes about the exact date, but the story itself is widely accepted. Would you be surprised to learn it wasn’t the invention of a conference of serious golfers, but instead from a slang term between brothers…

Where Does the Word “Birdie” Come From in Golf?

The year was 1903, or maybe earlier (experts are still debating this). A group of men—including brothers Ab and William Smith—were out for a round of golf at the Atlantic City Country Club in New Jersey. On the second hole, Ab landed his ball within inches of the hole and decreed it to be a ‘bird of a shot.’ 

Ab’s use of “bird” was part of the typical American slang at the time, where ‘bird’ meant excellent or outstanding.

After that shot, Ab suggested that for future holes, should anyone win a hole with a score under par, they should receive double the money. In other words, the term came about as the brothers used it to include a monetary wager!

As they say, the rest is history.

It wasn't long before it was a common term in America, and in 1913, a British golfing writer picked up on it, leading to the term going international! Today, a plaque commemorates the moment at the golf club!

Scoring a Birdie

Scoring a birdie isn’t easy. If you consider that a par refers to the ideal strokes for a proficient player, scoring a birdie means you have to be better than proficient. You have to be good or lucky. 

If you’re curious about the likelihood of scoring a birdie, it’s rare for an average player, though not impossible.

To put it into perspective, the average number of birdies played by professional golfers per round is five. And they're the professionals! Interestingly enough, the most common place to get a birdie is on par-fives, so see what you can do next time you find yourself on one!

While it is challenging to achieve a birdie, there is one thing that will be a good place to start. Aim for the middle of the green, not the pin. That should put you in a much better position.

By far and away, if you'd like to try your luck at achieving a birdie, the best advice is to practice! By honing your golf skills and understanding your way of playing better, you will have a far better chance at reaching that elusive birdie!

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Getting a Birdie in Golf Good?

Scoring a birdie is very much a good thing! It indicates the player has surpassed the ideal score for a hole. When a player gets to that level and scores a birdie, it is a moment for celebration and maybe even surprise—just ask Graeme McDowell, who will tell you about his ridiculous birdie!

Final Thoughts

So, that concludes your golf lesson on Birdies 101! With the name originating in America over a century ago and growing to have an elusive and sought-after reputation, it's something to add to your list of golf goals as you work toward becoming a pro.

As for the next steps, ensure you are equipped with everything the pros need, like top golfing gear from STITCH Golf. Then head on out to your local club—after all, practice makes perfect!