What’s a Birdie in Golf?

Last Updated on: 6th July 2023, 03:58 pm

Part of getting into golf is learning the terms that golfers use. There’s no more alienating feeling than hearing people talk and not understanding what they’re saying; especially when you’re trying to look the part on the golf course.

No matter how you look — with your fancy pants, shirt, and golf bag — if you don’t understand basic golf terms you’re gonna feel like an idiot; or at the very least misinformed. You’ll smile and nod, but like a toddler filing taxes, you won’t know how to fill out the all-important paperwork, which is in our case a scorecard.

So, wonder no more; we’re here to answer the question, “What’s a birdie in golf?”

A Refresher on Par

The most important thing to remember when learning how to score a birdie is that it changes from hole to hole relative to par.

Par, if you remember, is the number of strokes an experienced golfer would need to put the ball in the hole. If you’re playing a par-3 hole, you’ll need to take three shots from the tee to the hole to achieve par.

Why does that matter?

Par is the standard by which to judge yourself as a golfer; if you shoot par for a course, you’re playing very well.

Relationship Between Hole Length, Strokes & Birdies

Generally, the higher number of strokes to score par on a given hole is an indication of how long the hole is. For the sake of our example, let’s say you completed a par-3 in two shots, which would most likely mean you hit a great tee shot.

In that case, you’d be one-under-par for that hole meaning you scored a birdie. Good on ya, old chap. Scoring a birdie is a great accomplishment, plus it means you’ve erased a poor shot from a previous trip to the sandtrap.

In short, a birdie is taking one fewer stroke than the assigned par to complete a hole. In other words, you can score a birdie if you get the ball in the hole in two shots on a par-3, three shots on a par-4, or 4 shots on a par-5.

But why do we call it a birdie in the first place?

History of the Term “Birdie”

According to the United States Golf Association, or USGA, the term birdie stems from 19th-century American slang. At that time, anything considered good was a bird. You could have a real bird of a pocket watch or a bird of a gal. But in our case, it relates to a particularly good shot on the golf course.

Again from the USGA, in H.B. Martin’s “50 Years of American Golf,” a golfer named Ab Smith hit a shot to within six inches of the cup and said, “That was one bird of a shot… I suggest that when one of us plays a hole in one under par he receives double compensation.”

From then on out, any time that a golfer scored one under par for a given hole, it was called a birdie. While golf clubs and balls have come a really long way since then, any time you nearly score a birdie but the ball rims out just think of an old-timey man wearing a suit and swinging primitive clubs at strange-looking golf balls and think to yourself, “damn, even that old guy is better than me.”

For an idea of how to achieve more birdies, keep on reading.

How to Score More Birdies

Birdies are hard to get. Like hummingbirds they’re elusive and you’ll likely only see one every so often. To score one, you’ll need skill, precision, careful planning, and some luck. From the tee to the green, let’s see how you can put more bidies on your scorecard.

  1. Tee Shots: A powerful yet accurate tee shot sets up your birdie opportunity from the jump. If you can put your ball in the fairway, you’ll give provide yourself a good opportunity to hit a quality approach shot.
  2. Approach Shots: Once you’ve landed on the fairway, a precise approach shot with one of your irons can help you get as close to the hole as possible.
  3. Putting: The final, and arguably most difficult aspect of getting a birdie comes down to your putting. You’ll need a quality read on the green with an accurate judgment of slope and speed. Minimize your putts for maximum birdies.

If you take these factors into account, you should secure a bird in hand with enough practice.

Why Birdies Are Important

Ultimately, hitting the ball fewer times than the next guy leads to victories. Whether you’re playing for cash, fun, or plan to enter a tournament, you’ll need to hit as many birdies as possible to win.

That’s what most of us are after — wins. But, it isn’t just about beating your dumb friend Carl. Sometimes winning means shooting a lower score than you did the last time. And for many of us, that’s what keeps us coming back.


So there you have it, the answer to what’s a birdie in golf. Now, you’ll be able to accurately fill out a scorecard if you or somebody you know is lucky enough to score a birdie.

And unlike that tax-filing toddler, you’ll have accurate numbers for how well you and your buddies did that last round. Unless you like to fudge the numbers, in which case we won’t tell.

Until next time, have a great round and keep the birds flyin’.