Why Is a Birdie Called a Birdie in Golf?

The sport of golf dates back to the 15th century in Scotland. Kings and queens in Europe helped spread the game across the continent in the 1500s and 1600s, but many of the golf terms we use today didn’t come about until hundreds of years later.

In the case of “birdie,” the term used to describe a score of 1 under par on a hole, it wasn’t introduced until 1903 when an amateur golfer hit a stellar approach shot and used a slang word to accidentally create the popular term. So, how exactly did “birdie” get its name?

Where does the golf term “birdie” come from?

A golf ball sits on the lip.
A golf ball sits on the lip of the cup during the Chevron World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club | Paul Mounce/Corbis via Getty Images
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Back in the 1800s, golf had already spread around the world, but there weren’t any specific terms for individual scores. That changed in 1903 when a man named Abner “Ab” Smith hit a beauty of an approach shot at Atlantic City Country Club in New Jersey.

I’ll let the ACCC website take it from here.

On a windy winter day in December 1903, Abner Smith of Philadelphia teed it up on the 12th Hole at Atlantic City Country Club. His tee shot landed in the fairway like any other ball, but it was his next shot from the fairway that would make history. It landed on the green just inches from the hole allowing an easy putt and one under par score. It was such a fine shot that someone in the group shouted, “That was a bird of a shot!” Back in the day, the term “bird” was used to describe something outstanding or incredible.

“Bird of a shot” was transformed into “birdie” to describe a one under score and the rest is history. Visitors to Atlantic City Country Club learned of the term and it spread around the world.

Atlantic City Country Club website

The term has stuck ever since, and other bird terms to describe scores under par have developed as a result. If you visit Atlantic City Country Club today, you’ll find a commemorative rock in the exact spot of the “Birthplace of the Birdie.”