What is a Birdie in Golf?

What is a Birdie in Golf?

Golf is truly a game of contradictions. While it seems easy when you’re playing well, it can feel impossibly tough when you’re not. In golf, high scores are bad and low scores are good – the opposite of most other sports. As an amateur golfer, I’ve experienced the frustration of a high-scoring round and the elation of an occasional low score. But the truth is, unless you understand golf’s unique scoring system, even a great score can be confusing.

Take the recent example of Linn Grant’s victory at the 2023 Honda LPGA Thailand. The 22-year-old Swede shot a remarkable -24 over four rounds to win the tournament. But what exactly does that number mean? Was her scoring good or bad? To truly appreciate golf and celebrate moments like Grant’s achievement, we need to understand the fundamental golf scoring terms.

Basics of Golf Scoring

In golf, a stroke is defined as any intentional swing or putt aimed at striking the ball. Even a missed swing counts as a stroke. These strokes are the building blocks of golf scoring, with all scoring terms relating to the number of strokes taken compared to the course’s “par”.

Par, in golf terminology, represents the standard number of strokes an expert golfer should require to complete a hole. Most courses have a mix of par-3, par-4, and par-5 holes, with the par for the entire course being the sum of these hole ratings.

Essential Golf Scoring Terms

If you score the exact par for a hole or an entire course, your score is described as “scratch” or “par”. This score is the baseline against which a player’s performance is measured.

To make competitions fair among golfers of varying skill levels, golf employs a handicap system. A player’s handicap is calculated based on their average scores over multiple rounds, with higher handicaps assigned to players with higher average scores.

Now, let’s explore the key scoring terms in golf:

  • Condor: Scoring 4 strokes under par on a hole
  • Albatross: Scoring 3 strokes under par on a hole
  • Eagle: Scoring 2 strokes under par on a hole
  • Birdie: Scoring 1 stroke under par on a hole
  • Bogey: Scoring 1 stroke over par on a hole
  • Double Bogey: Scoring 2 strokes over par on a hole
  • Triple Bogey: Scoring 3 strokes over par on a hole

These terms represent the different levels of performance relative to the par for a given hole.

Exploring “Par” in Golf

The concept of “par” is central to understanding golf scoring. Par is not a fixed number but varies based on the hole. A par-3 hole is expected to take an expert golfer 3 strokes to complete, a par-4 requires 4 strokes, and a par-5 requires 5 strokes.

The United States Golf Association (USGA) defines a “par golfer” as someone who can play to a Course Handicap of zero on any set of tees. This signifies a high level of skill and consistency, as a par golfer should be able to score at or below the course par on a regular basis.

A player’s handicap is essential for ensuring fair competition among golfers of different abilities. It is calculated based on a player’s average scores over a set number of rounds, with adjustments made for the difficulty of the courses played.

Under Par in Golf

Scoring under par is the ultimate goal for any golfer and a sign of exceptional skill and precision. When you hear about a professional shooting a round of 65 or an amateur boasting about their personal best of 72, they’re describing scores that are below the par for that course.

Being under par means you’ve taken fewer strokes than the standard for expert players on that course. For example, if the par for a course is 72, a score of 71 means you’ve scored 1 stroke under par for the entire round.

One of the most common under par achievements in golf is the “birdie”. A birdie is defined as scoring 1 stroke under par on a single hole. The term is believed to have originated in 1903 when Ab Smith described his excellent score as “a bird of a shot”.

Golf’s Under Par Achievements

While a birdie is a noteworthy accomplishment, scoring 2 strokes under par on a hole is even more impressive. This feat is known as an “eagle”. Eagles are relatively common on par-4 holes when a player manages to reach the green with their tee shot and then sinks the putt.

Even rarer than an eagle is the “albatross”, which refers to scoring 3 strokes under par on a single hole. Also known as a double-eagle, an albatross is an exceptional achievement, even for professional golfers. Some notable albatross moments in major tournaments include Jeff Maggert’s albatross on the 13th hole at the 1994 Masters, and Louis Oosthuizen’s albatross on the 2nd hole at the 2012 Masters.

Rarest of all is the “condor”, which is the term for scoring 4 strokes under par on a single hole. This incredible feat has only occurred a handful of times in golf history, with examples including Michael Bonallack’s condor on the par-5 6th hole at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in 1965, and Shaun Lynch’s condor on the par-5 17th hole at Teign Valley Golf Club in 1994.

The Prestige of an “Ace”

One of the most prestigious and celebrated achievements in golf is scoring an “ace”, which is better known as a hole-in-one. An ace occurs when a golfer manages to land the ball in the cup with their very first shot on a hole.

While extremely rare, some professional golfers have managed to record multiple aces throughout their careers, showcasing their extraordinary skill and precision on the course. Hal Sutton holds the PGA Tour record with 14 aces, while Ernie Els and Robert Allenby are tied for the most aces in major championships with 6 each.

Above Par in Golf

Of course, not every hole or round will result in a score under par. In fact, most golfers, including professionals, will often find themselves scoring above par.

When you take 1 stroke over the par for a hole, it’s known as a “bogey”. Take 2 strokes over par, and you’ve scored a “double bogey”. A “triple bogey” occurs when you’re 3 strokes over par on a single hole.

Even the world’s best golfers have rounds where they struggle and end up scoring above par on multiple holes. For example, in the final round of the 2016 Masters, Jordan Spieth recorded a quadruple-bogey 7 on the par-3 12th hole, ultimately losing the tournament.


As you can see, golf scoring encompasses a diverse range of terms and achievements, from the coveted hole-in-one to the disappointment of a triple bogey. The language of golf scoring reflects the complexity and challenge of this beloved sport.

For new golfers or fans of the game, taking the time to understand these scoring terms can greatly enhance your enjoyment and appreciation of golf. Whether you’re celebrating a hard-earned birdie or commiserating over a disappointing bogey, knowing the terminology enriches the experience.

At the end of the day, the true beauty of golf lies not just in the scores, but in the camaraderie, exercise, and love for the game itself. So the next time you tee off, remember to have fun and embrace the journey, no matter what your scorecard says.

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