Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Birdie, Eagle, Bogey and Par: Origins of Popular Golf Terms

Rock Bottom Golf 728 X 90 Ad - GeneralBy Scott McCormick

Why Birdie?  Why Bogey?  Ever wonder?  Well, I’ve got all your answers right here! 
In the 19th century, the term “bird” was used extensively in American Slang in a fashion that is similar to how the term “cool” has been used in recent decades.  “Bird” generally meant “excellent”, “superb” or “tremendous”.

Now someone far wiser than I will have to explain how and why “bird” came to mean “great” – much like I have no idea how “cool” acquired its modern usage.

However, I do know that this now-archaic usage led to a lasting golf terminology: the birdie.  Yes, the term for this elusive golf achievement was coined when someone noted that it was “totally bird” to attain a score of one under par – or so the story goes.  Regardless of where, when and how it first came into usage, by the early 20th century the “term” birdie was widespread in the golfing world.

Interestingly enough, the term for one over par, predates both the term “birdie” and the word “par” itself, in a golf context.  For loyal followers of the PGA Tour, a bogey has come to be a regarded as a somewhat disappointing outcome, but this wasn’t always the case.  For golfers like me, achieving a bogey is a cause for celebration, and this was the feeling of those that were around when the term was coined when scoring a bogey was an unqualified success. 

How did the term originate?  It was a derivation of the frightening imaginary beings of our childhood: bogeyman (sometimes pronounced boogieman).   The idea is that golfers were constantly chasing ghosts, or Mr. Bogey Man, trying to better their score.  As the term evolved it came to be used in the same way that we currently use par.  Later of course, that would change.

The word par as we currently understand it began as a financial term used to denote whether a particular investment was performing above or below expectations.  In 1870, the term was used to describe the predicted winning score at that year’s British Open Championship at Prestwick.  The Brits then put the term on ice for a time, but their American brethren picked it up and soon – as Americans are wont to do – they had made it their own.  By the mid-1890s, the term par had become standard amongst American golf organizations.  

Meanwhile, American organizations were tinkering with the way golf was scored, adjusting the “par” levels to account for the improved performances they were observing on the links.  Across the pond, the more traditionally-minded Brits were less willing to tamper with longtime customs, so in time the American “par” came to be lower than the British equivalent “bogey”.  Americans began referring to one-over-par as a “bogey” and despite stodgy resistance from the British Isles, the term stuck.
Birds of a Feather
After all that juicy history, the backstory for other scoring terms seems sadly dull in comparison.  Once the term “birdie” was established, it was no time before a score of two-under par was referred to as a “big birdie”.  Appropriately this was altered to “eagle” soon thereafter.  Once this ball started rolling, there was no stopping it, and soon a score of three-under par received an avian moniker: albatross (though it is still often referred to as a double-eagle).

For reasons I cannot fathom, a score of four under par – which allegedly has been accomplished before by someone – was also given a bird name: Condor.

Even less fathomable is that someone has given a name to a score of five under par: ostrich.  This is universally conceded to be an impossible feat to achieve, as it would require a hole-in-one on an ultra-rare Par Six, which would require a drive of well over 600 yards.

Scott McCormick comes from a long line of mediocre – yet devoted – golfers. He lives in Arizona with his wife Alexis and their two dogs. When not trying to improve his short game on an office putting machine or following his favorite PGA tour pros on Twitter, he works as a freelance writer for GolfNow, specializing in San Diego Golf and Phoenix Golf.

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