NCG's Golf Glossary: What is a birdie?

The Scoop

Don't know your dormies from your doglegs? NCG's Golf Glossary is here to help

Here at NCG we pride ourselves on being the publication for the everyday player, so we’ve taken it upon ourselves to delve into the wonderful world of the golfing lexicon.

Sometimes the most obvious terms have the most interesting story, so you might find yourself an interesting conversation starter…

What is a birdie?

Pretty simple really: A score for a hole that is one fewer than par.

How would you use it in a sentence?

“Bill found the green in regulation but faced a 30-foot putt for birdie.”

What are its origins?

In everyday life if you say something is ‘under par’ you’d expect it to be less than good. But in golf that’s what you’re aiming for? Weird.

Anyway, according to the USGA, the phrase ‘birdie’ to describe a score of 1-under came about at the tail end of the 19th century. ‘Bird’ was the ‘cool’ of its day, used to describe all manner of things that were great.

And so to the Atlantic City Country Club in 1903…

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Ab Smith was playing a round with his brother William and friend Greorge Crump, who later built Pine Valley. They were playing the par-4 2nd when our Ab struck a real doozie of a shot.

He later recalled: “My ball came to rest within six inches of the cup. I said ‘That was a bird of a shot. I suggest that when one of us plays a hole in 1-under par he receives double compensation.’

“The other two agreed and we began right away, just as soon as the next one came, to call it a ‘birdie’.”

There’s even a plaque to mark the hole where it took place…

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We’re going to have to take Ab’s word on this, but it’s funny how these things catch on and in 1913 famous golf writer Bernard Darwin wrote: “It takes a day or two for the English onlooker to understand that … a ‘birdie’ is a hole done in a stroke under par.”

The avian theme continued and an ‘eagle’ followed birdie, with Smith again taking the credit, while ‘albatross’ arriving later on the scene.

Any other business?

Which made us think – what other Victorian slang should be translated on to the golf course?

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A ‘Gigglemug’ was a face with a massive grin on it. The uncontrollable smile you get after sinking a birdie, perhaps?

“Inexpressibles” was another word for trousers. In golf terms it would be the sort popularised by John Daly.

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‘Bags o’ mystery’ was another name for sausages, so named because you didn’t know what was inside them. Maybe that could be a golf bag with a mix-and-match set of clubs inside?

To ‘shoot into the brown’ was to fail, which really fits perfectly for golf…

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And finally, to ‘tickle one’s innards’ was to drink. A trip to the 19th awaits…

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