Birdie: What This Scoring Term Means in Golf

The Scores a Golfer Has to Make to Claim a Birdie

Dustin Johnson of the United States celebrates a birdie on the 18th green during the final round of the 2016 U.S. Open
Even the pros (in this case, Dustin Johnson) celebrate birdies. For recreational golfers, the birdie is a rare treat. Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

"Birdie" is one of the basic scoring terms used by golfers, and it means a score of 1-under par on any individual golf hole. Par, remember, is the expected number of strokes it should take an expert golfer to complete a hole. Every holf on a golf course is given a par rating, those ratings usually being either par-3, par-4 or par-5. That means that an expert golfer should need three strokes, four strokes and five strokes, respectively, to play those holes.

So a birdie is a very good score on a hole, one that mid-handicappers don't see often and high handicappers rarely see. For recreational golfers, making a birdie is a thing to celebrate.

  • Usage examples: "Did you get a birdie on that last hole?" "I made a 4 on the par-5, write down a birdie." "I need to birdie this hole to win the match."

The Scores That Result in a Birdie

As for your actual score: If you make a "birdie" on a hole then you have:

  • Scored a 2 on a par-3 hole
  • Scored a 3 on a par-4 hole
  • Scored a 4 on a par-5 hole.

Par-6 holes are rare in golf, but they do exist. So you can also claim a birdie by making a score of five on a par-6 hole.

How Did Birdie Become a Golf Term?

"Birdie" isn't just a golf term that originated in the United States, it's one of the earliest innovations in the game that originated in America.

(In fact, The Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms cites a 1913 quote by the great English golf writer Bernard Darwin: "It takes a day or two for the English onlooker [in the U.S.] to understand that ... a birdie is a hole done in a stroke under par.")

The word's golf usage originates in old (as in late 19th century) slang, when the word "bird" was sometimes used the way the word "cool" is used to today. The transformation of "bird"—as in, "hey, that was a bird of a shot"—into "birdie" is believed to have happened around the dawn of the 1900s, at a specific golf course, within a specific group of golfers in New Jersey.

And that golf course today has a plaque commemorating the time and place (although the course and the USGA disagree slightly on the date of the incident).

Other Forms and Uses of Birdie In Golf

Do "double birdies" exist? The word "bogey" means 1-over par on a hole, and 2-over is a "double bogey," 3-over is a "triple bogey," and so on.

Does the same pattern hold with birdie? If 1-under is a birdie, do golfers call 2-under a "double birdie"?

No. Two-under on a hole is an "eagle." And 3-under on a hole is an "albatross" ... or a "double eagle." Hey, nobody ever claimed golf's scoring terms make any logical sense.

A "birdie putt" is a putt that, if the golfer makes it, results in a score of birdie on the hole.

A "natural birdie" is a term some golfers use for a gross birdie. On a par-4 hole, if you take only three strokes, you made a "natural birdie." A net birdie, by contrast, means a birdie made after applying handicap strokes.

"Birdy" was once a common alternate spelling of birdie, but today is considered a misspelling. Birdie used as a verb means to play the hole in 1-under par: "I need to birdie the final hole to break 90."

Birdie Is Also Known As ...

Other ways golfers say they made a birdie on a hole:

  • bird
  • 1-under
  • 1-under par
  • circle on the scorecard.

Let's explain that last one. Some golfers like to mark their scorecards in away that makes under-par and over-par scores stand out. The tradition is to circle birdies on the scorecard. If you write down a "3" on a par-4 hole, you can circle the "3" to make it stand out as a birdie. Hence, "circle on the scorecard."

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