What is a Birdie? 9 Golf Scoring Terms to Know
Golf is a game of contradictions. It’s easy when you’re playing well, tough when you’re not. Low scores are good, high scores are bad. Amateurs ride in carts, while pros have to walk. Of course, smart players use Cart Tek remote-control walking carts to get the best of both options.
If you are not well acquainted with the game, it can definitely be hard to understand. For example, here's a scenario:
Recently, 22-year-old Swede Linn Grant became the first female player to win an event on the European tour. She beat a field of men and women, finishing with an 8-under par 64 in the final round at Halmstad Golf Club, Sweden. She had a bogey-free final round and made birdie at five of her first six holes to finish the tournament at -24, 9-strokes ahead of the second-place finisher.
So, what does that even mean? Was her scoring good? Bad?
We are here to help you learn the basics of golf scoring terms!
Read on to Learn:
- The 9 Top Golf Scoring Terms
- What Par Means
- Terms for Shots Under Par
- What an Ace Means in Golf
- What Playing Above Par Golf Means
What are the 9 Golf Scoring Terms to Know?
Before you learn the golf scoring terms, you need to know what a stroke is. A stroke (or strokes) might be one of the essential terms in golf scoring. Essentially, it represents how often a golfer swings (or putts) their club intending to strike the ball. If you attempt a swing and miss, it’s still counted as a stroke. All of the golf terms you are going to learn have to do with the number of strokes and par (which you will learn very soon).
Now, here are the main golf terms you need to know for your golf game:
- Scratch or Par
- Double Bogey
- Triple Bogey
What Does Par Mean in Golf?
In the English lexicon, par means standard or average. In golf, par is a very different from the standard or average.
Golf courses are designed so an expert player can get from tee to hole in approximately 72 strokes (for 18 holes). On par-3 holes, it’s one stroke to the green, two putts. Par-4 holes, two strokes to the green, and two putts. And par-5 holes, three strokes to the green and two putts. Sound easy?
It's not for the average golfer. According to the United States Golf Association (USGA), a par golfer is “a player who can play to a Course Handicap of zero on any and all rated golf courses.”
And what does it take to shoot par? A whole lot of talent.
You may be asking, what is the Course Handicap or handicap system? The handicap system is employed at most courses and non-professional tournaments, and it means each player gets to deduct their handicap to make everything fair and fun.
If someone asks you, “Hey, what’s your handicap?” they don’t want to hear, “My arms are too short.” A golf handicap equals your score over at least a half-dozen rounds of play. You can ask at the pro shop, and they’ll explain how to enter your scores on your mobile, and you’ll be set.
Let's say you start with an 89, 92, 96, 91, 97, and 88. That makes your average golfer's score an 93.66, or 94. If the course is a par 72, the difference between your score and 72 gives you a handicap of 22. You’re doing fine.
No matter your score, your handicap, or your relativity to par score, we walk the course and enjoy the weather, the camaraderie, and the exercise a round of golf offers.
What Does it Mean to be Under Par in Golf?
If you’re under par, you’re enjoying something phenomenal – golf excellence. If the course is a par 71 and you shoot 68 (strokes), you are three under par. Congratulations! To get there, you're probably a seasoned golfer, and you’ve probably had several individual golf holes where you were under par. There are several different golf scoring terms for being under par, and each one is better than the last.
It is important to know that a birdie is one under par. No one’s going to hand you a bird or anything, but that’s the term. Weird, huh?
According to golf history – and a plaque at the Atlantic City Country Club - Ab Smith is said to have coined the phrase in 1903 after making a shot that landed just six inches from the cup and exclaiming, “That was a bird of a shot.”
The shot was so pretty, he suggested, “When one of us plays a hole in one under par, he should receive double compensation.” Then, when the next time a player in the group shot one under par on a hole, they called it a birdie.
The term birdie flew (sorry) around the country club and across the globe. Birdies often happen after an excellent chip to the green leaves a short putt. Although, in recent news, Louis Oosthuizen dropped a 65-foot birdie putt at the Honda Classic 2022 in February. Wow!
AB Smith also takes credit for the term eagle, which denotes two under par on a single hole. Eagles often happen on par 4 holes when a golfer chips in from near the green.
Think of it like this, outside of golf, an eagle is definitely bigger than a birdie. In a game of golf, an eagle is definitely better than a birdie.
Let's take it a step further, under par that is. An albatross refers to three under par on an individual golf hole.
In golf majors (Masters, US Open, British Open, PGA Championship), only 18 players have ever made an albatross, including Louis Oosthuizen, who made the last one in the 2012 Masters. The previous player at the Masters with an albatross (or double eagle) was Jeff Maggert in 1994. The only player ever to record two elusive albatross scores is the same Jeff Maggert, who accomplished the previously impossible at the 2001 British Open.
Finally, if the albatross wasn’t big enough for you, there’s also the tiny possibility of scoring a condor. A condor is scoring four under par on a given hole. The first recorded condor was struck in 1962 by Larry Bruce. Also, in the group of 4-under par are Dick Hogan in 1973, Shaun Lynch in 1995, Mike Crean in 2002, and Jack Bartlett in 2007.
In 2020, Keven Pon, a professional golfer, made a list in fashion with a 2-stroke shot on the 667-yard 18th hole at Lake Chabot Golf Course in Oakland, California. Yup, an extremely rare feat and the only one known on an equally rare par-6 hole.
It takes consistent birdies or better to play under par, which is challenging even for expert golfers. When Australian golf professional Cameron Smith played in the 2020 Masters, he was the first player to play all four rounds with golf scores in the 60s – and he only tied for second.
What Does an Ace Mean in Golf?
In golf, an ace is a hole-in-one. You take your first shot at the tee, which lands in the cup. Most players never score an ace, but pros are so good they even have multiple aces on tour.
The top twelve players with PGA golf tournament hole-in-ones have at least six. The leader, Australian Robert Allenby, has recorded an even dozen.
What Does it Mean to be Above Par in Golf?
In the scheme of things, playing above par means you are like most golfers. You are above par if the course is rated at 70 and you shoot 71 or higher.
A bogey is a one-over-par on a single hole, such as shooting a 5 on a par-4. Bogey golf is shooting one-over-par as an average for all holes. Bogey golf on a par 72 puts your score at about 90.
A double-bogey denotes two over par, perhaps a 5 on a par-3. The dreaded triple bogey is three over par, often an 8 (affectionately known as a snowman) on a par 5.
Don’t worry, strange scores creep into every golfer’s life, even the pros. In 2013, Jason Dufner won the PGA Championship. Later in the year, he addressed his birdie putt on a par 4 hole and somehow tapped his ball sideways. It happens.
No, the term duffer for a struggling golfer didn’t come from that event (although friends call Jason “Duff” for short). Still, you might think of his putt as a bad birdie – which is usually reserved for when you two-putt for a birdie that could have been an eagle.
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