A birdie is a golf term for completing a hole in one stroke less than the stated par for that hole. This means getting a 2 on a par 3, a 3 on a par 4, or a 4 on a par 5.
Where Does The Term Birdie Come From?
Atlantic City Country Club in Atlantic City, NJ claims to have originated the term “birdie” in 1903.
In the latter part of the 19th century, the term “bird” was used similarly to the way we use “cool” today to refer to something as good or great.
Sometime around the 1910s use of “birdie” to indicate one under par became more widespread in the game of golf.
In 1962 US Greenskeeper’s magazine interviewed A.B. Smith who was the friend of George A. Crump (the architect of the famous Pine Valley Course in NJ). Smith recalled that in 1898/9, he and his brother, William P Smith, and their friend George were playing a round at Atlantic City Country Club.
A.B. Smith said, “That was a bird of a shot” and that he should get double the money if he won with one under par. After holing his putt to win, they continued to refer to one under par as a “birdie”.
The Atlantic City Club dates the event to 1903, so we can’t be entirely certain whether the Club historian or Smith himself had the correct year. Smith was around 89 at the time of the interview.
Of course, that makes a fun story, but for all we know, there were many golfers that used the common slang of the time to call a good golf shot a bird.
A September 1911 edition of Maclean Magazine used the phrase, “bird” straight down the course, about two hundred and fifteen yards” to describe a good golf shot. So by that time, it had made its way into print. A couple of years later, in September 1913, the term had made its way to England and showed up in Country Life Magazine.
How To Get A Birdie
Of course, everyone wants to shoot under par every hole and if I could make that happen with a few tips here then I’d make millions as a golf coach.
But there are some things that you can do the next time you play to increase your odds of making a birdie that aren’t technical swing thoughts and don’t require hours at the range.
Aim For The Middle Of The Green
The biggest determining factor as to whether you’ll make a birdie or not is whether you hit the green in regulation.
Even if you aren’t that far from the hole itself, missing the green lowers your probability of making a birdie significantly. In fact, it’s better to be on the green and farther away than closer and just off the green.
You’re much more likely to hole a long putt than a chip or pitch.
So stop aiming for the pin. Your target should be the middle of the green.
Use The Back Yardage Unless There’s Trouble
Most amateur golfers miss 90% of their shots short. That is because when you miss-hit the ball, even slightly, you will lose distance.
So if most of your shots miss short of your club’s distance on a good strike, then why not play those odds to your favor?
Instead of using the distance to the middle of the green (or even worse, the pin), use the distance to the back of the green and if that 90% holds true, you’ll have close to the perfect yardage more often than not.
The only exception to this strategy is when there is trouble behind the green, like water or a bunker, that you want to avoid. In that case, use the yardage to the middle of the green.
Aim Away From Trouble Off The Tee
Most golfers ruin their chances at a birdie before they even hit their approach shot. If you put your tee shot in a position where you’re unable to get on the green then your odds of making a birdie are close to zero.
Even worse, if you hit into a water hazard or out of bounds, you really do have zero chance of making a birdie.
So when you are lining up your tee shot, aim away from trouble. Even if you hit it in the rough but you have a clear second shot, you still can make a birdie.
Don’t Lay Up On Par 5s
The closer you hit your second shot to the green on a par 5, the better your odds of making birdie.
One of the big benefits of the rise of all these shot tracking systems that are available to amateurs is that we have an incredible amount of data that can be used to refine your course management.
One of the statistics that surprised me is that laying up to a “comfortable” yardage on a par 5 actually reduces your score on average.
As long as there is no trouble that you might hit into, you should use the longest club that you feel comfortable hitting.
TIP: That doesn’t mean grabbing a 3 wood out of deep rough. Use a club that you know you can make solid contact with.
Don’t Try To Make A Birdie
This may sound a little silly, but you can’t force a birdie.
Instead of trying to make it happen, just use the simple strategies I went over above to give yourself more birdie attempts. Sure, you’ll miss most of those putts, but the more often you give yourself the opportunity to make a birdie putt, the more birdies you’ll get.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is a birdie better than an eagle in golf?
A birdie is not better than an eagle in golf. A birdie is a score of one under par (-1) and an eagle is a score of two under par (-2) so an eagle is one stroke better than a birdie.
How many shots is a birdie?
The number of shots for a birdie is one under the par for the hole. So to get a birdie, you need to score a 2 on a par 3, a 3 on a par 4, or a 4 on a par 5.