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The Origins and Histories of Golf’s Scoring Terms and System

In the world of golf, you will find some interesting terms or shot score names.  Here is a definition chart to help you understand the terms used.  Just below this chart are some of the great golf histories and origins of where these terms started.

       Scoreboard                               Specific Term                                        Definition

           -4                                 Triple Eagle or Condor                          Four Strokes Under Par
           -3                                  Double Eagle or Albatross                   Three Strokes Under Par
           -2                                  Eagle                                                    Two Strokes Under Par
           -1                                  Birdie                                                    One Stroke Under Par
            0                                  Par                                                        Strokes Equal To Par
          +1                                  Bogey                                                   One Stroke Over Par
          +2                                  Double Bogey                                      Two Strokes Over Par
          +3                                  Triple Bogey                                         Three Strokes Over Par
          +4                                  Quadruple Bogey                                 Four Strokes Over Pa
          +5 & Up                         Bogey 5, Bogey 6, etc.                         Five Strokes Over Par & Up

The simplified way is to give terms and definitions… but that would leave out so much wonderful history!  Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, was a great source for preparing this posting.  For more information regarding golf terms, you may view their website at:
Scores on each hole are recorded signifying the number of strokes it took to put the ball in the hole on the green.  Each hole has a predetermined number of strokes that it should take the golfer to put the golf ball into the hole.  This is called "par" or "even".  

Par is the predetermined number of strokes that a scratch, (or) handicap, golfer should require completing the hole. Pars are the central component of stroke play which is the most common kind of play in golf tournaments.  Scoring par means that the golfer has taken as many strokes as the hole’s par rating number.  In theory, all pars are achieved by taking two putts to put the ball in the hole with the previous strokes being used to reach the green.  For example, on a par-5 hole, a golfer would be expected to take three strokes to reach the green and two strokes to putt the ball into the hole.  Par derives its name from Latin, in which "par" means equal.
The length of each hole, from the tee placement to the pin, or flag stick, determines the par values for each hole.  Usually holes are assigned par values between three and five strokes. 
For a casual player, from the middle tees, a par-3 hole will usually range from between 100 yards or 90 meters, to 250 yards or 230 meters in length.  Par-4 holes range between 250 yards or 230 meters to 450 yards or 410 meters and par-5 holes are typically from 450 yards or 410 meters and 600 yards or 550 meters long.  A hole over 600 yards or 550 meters is rated a par-6.  These are very rare, but do exist.
Here is the history of the present day scoring system.  Nicknames are given to common scores on holes.

"Bogey" was the first stroke scoring system developed in England at the end of the 19th Century.  The full history is given in Robert Browning's “History of Golf”, 1955.  In 1890 Mr. Hugh Rotherham, Secretary of the Coventry Golf Club, conceived the idea of standardizing the number of shots at each hole that a good golfer should take, which he called the 'ground score'.  Dr. Browne, Secretary of the Great Yarmouth Club, adopted the idea, and with the assent of the club’s golfers, this style of competition was introduced there for use in match play.
During one competition Mr. C.A. Wellman (possibly Major Charles Wellman) exclaimed to Dr. Browne that “This player of yours is a regular Bogey man”.  This was probably a reference to the eponymous subject of an Edwardian music hall song “Hush! Hush! Hush! Here Comes the Bogey Man”, which was popular at that time.  So at Yarmouth and elsewhere the ground score became known as the Bogey score.  A 'bogey' was a Scottish goblin as far back as the 16th Century and a Bogeyman was a widely used term for a goblin or devil.  Golfers of the time considered they were playing a Mister Bogey when measuring themselves against the bogey score.
In 1892, Colonel Seely-Vidal, the Hon Secretary of the United Services Club at Gasport, also worked out the 'Bogey' for his course.  The United Club was a services club and all the members had a military rank.  They could not measure themselves against a 'Mister Bogey' or have him as a member, so ‘he’ was given the honorary rank of Colonel.  Thus the term 'Colonel Bogey' was born.  Bogey competitions are still played at many clubs.
Later Bogey was used as the term for one above Par.
 Par, Even, E
According to Neil Laird, in “Scottish Golf History”, at, a most delightful read, "par" is derived from the stock exchange term that a stock may be above or below its normal or 'par' figure.  In 1870, Mr. A.H. Doleman, a golf writer, asked as the golf professionals David Strath and James Anderson, what score would win “The Belt”, then the winning trophy for “The Open”, at Prestwick, where it was first held annually from 1861 to 1870.  Strath and Anderson said that perfect play should produce a score of 49 for Prestwick’s twelve holes.  Mr. Doleman called this Par for Prestwick and subsequently "Young Tom Morris" won with a score of two strokes 'over Par' for the three rounds of 36 holes.
Although the first use of the word "par" in golf was in Britain, today’s rating system and the Par standard was not further developed until later.  It was the American Women's Golf Association, who, from 1893, began to develop a national handicapping system for women.  It was largely in place by the turn of the Century.  The Men’s association, founded in 1894, followed suit a few years later. 
In 1911, the United States Golf Association (Men) of the day laid down the following very modern distances for determining Par:
Up to 225 yards:  Par-3 
225 to 425 yards:  Par-4
426 to 600 yards:  Par-5
Over 601 yards:  Par-6
As golf developed, scores were coming down, but many old British courses did not adjust their courses or their Bogey scores, which meant good golfers and all the professionals were achieving lower than a Bogey score.  This meant that the US had an up-to-date national standard of distances for holes, while the British Bogey ratings were determined by each club and were no longer appropriate for professionals.  The Americans began to referring to one over par as a Bogey, much to the British chagrin.
By 1914, British golf magazines were agitating for a ratings system similar to the US.  However, the Great War 1914 – 1918 intervened and it was not until 1925 that a Golf Union's Joint Advisory Committee of the British Isles was formed to assign Standard Scratch Scores (SSS) to golf courses in Great Britain and Ireland.  Today, this committee is known as the council of National Golf Unions (CONGU).  It is the Golf Union of each country (and not the Royal and Ancient Golf Club) who determine Pars and Handicapping.

 Birdie, One-Under-Par, -1
There is no doubt that the term "birdie" is of American origin.  There are, however, several versions of the origin and how the term "birdie" came into existence.  This term or expression was first coined in 1899 at the Atlantic City Country Club in Northfield, New Jersey.  Three golfers, George Crump, William Poultney Smith and his brother Abner "Ab" Smith were playing together.  All stories agree on this point.
William E. Kelly, Jr., the author of "Birth of the Birdie", and a freelance journalist, has posted on his website:, a wonderful historical piece titled "Birth of the Birdie - Atlantic City Country Club.  I will use his version of the event ~
“The term 'birdie' is one word in the English language that can be traced back to the original moment in time and place when it was first used.  Even the green where the celebrated first 'birdie' occurred has been preserved for posterity…
“Except for the whistle of a strong bay breeze, all fell quiet as Abner "Ab" Smith lined up his shot down the long twelfth fairway at the Atlantic City Country Club. It was late in the afternoon on a windy, but mild Saturday, a typical winter weekend outing for the group from suburban Philadelphia who frequented the Jersey Shore course when their home fairways were covered with snow. "Smith slowly took up his backswing, then let go with a wallop, putting the ball on the green, inches from the hole allowing for an easy putt and a one-under-par for the hole.  It was such a fine shot that someone in the group was moved to say it was a "bird of a shot".  With the putt, Smith won the hole in one-under-par, and because the players were playing for a ball-a-hole, they then agreed to double the wager on a hole where a golfer who hits such a "bird of a shot" wins with a one-under-par "birdie".  
“Thus began a tradition of the club, and the coming of a new term.  Visitors who learned of the local "birdie" tradition took it back to their home clubs and it eventually spread around the world.  It would become universal in its meaning and usage.  Today a plaque marks the spot where Ab Smith made the first "bird of a shot", now it is being used as the practice green.”
 Eagle, Two-Under-Par, -2
The scoring term "eagle", for two-under-par, also has an Atlantic City Country Club origin and was first seen in print in 1922.  Eagles usually occur when a golfer hits the ball far enough to reach the green with fewer strokes than expected.  This most commonly happens on par-5 holes, although it occasionally occurs on short par-4s.  A hole-in-one on a par-3 hole also results in an eagle.  The term is simply analogous to a birdie.  The name was given so that a larger bird would represent a better score.

 Double Eagle – Albatross, Three-Under-Par, -3
There are several ways to explain the golf scoring terms "double eagle" or "albatross".  I have chosen to quote the explanation posted on
“This term is much less commonly known or used in the golf scoring system; probably because it is so rare.  Most golfers will never sniff the albatross golf term in their own golfing vocabulary.  An albatross golf score is a term used for three under par on any single hole.”
“An albatross is an extremely rare sea bird, and it’s the largest of all sea birds.  Their wing span can be more than 10 feet long, and they can fly for extremely long periods of time and distances.  This is the reasoning behind why it’s used for a three under par golf score on one hole; because it’s so rare, but also because in order to land an albatross golf score on your card, you’re going to have to hit a golf ball that will fly for a time and for a far distance.  A golfer can only achieve an albatross in golf on par-4s and par-5s.  It’s impossible to make an albatross on a par-3 because that would mean you would have to make a zero to achieve three under par… and that’s not possible.”

“Any albatross score is made mainly on par-5s by holing out from the fairway on the second shot to make a two.  This is because of the simple fact that there are far more chances to reach a par-5 in two than there are drivable par-4s on the golf courses across the world.  An albatross golf score is so rare that it’s hardly ever seen on TV or in person, much less even heard about.”
“The only way to make a golf albatross on a par-4 is to make a hole-in-one, and these scores are only reserved for the longest hitters of the golf ball because that’s the only chance.  You’ve probably heard the term "never up, never in".  It’s so true in that if you can’t get the ball to the hole, you’ll never get the ball in the hole.  That’s a prerequisite of making a golf albatross on a par-4… Oh yeah, and then there’s that accuracy thing too that you’ll need to take into consideration.”
“The term probably used more so than the actual golf albatross term is "double eagle".  These terms are interchangeable as they both mean the same thing.  But if you think about it, wouldn’t a double eagle mean four under par? I mean, if one eagle is two-under-par, wouldn’t doubling that mean four under par?  This term has never made sense to me, but it’s still probably used more often that the real albatross golf term.”
The most famous albatross, or "double eagle", was made by the Club President in Memoriam, Gene Sarazen, on April 7, 1935, which propelled him into a tie for first place at the Masters Tournament held at the Augusta National Golf Club.  Gene won the playoff the next day.  The great sportswriter, Henry Grantland Rice, termed it "the shot heard 'round the world".  One day after making his albatross on the par-5 15th hole at Augusta, Gene referred to his shot as a "dodo"… once again another bird name to describe a score in golf.  Ab Smith said that he and his fellow golfers also used the phrase "double eagle" for a three-under-par score.
 Condor, Four-Under-Par, -4
A "condor" is the lowest individual hole score ever made and are exceptionally rare.  This would be a hole-in-one on a par-5 or a 2 on a par-6, and yes, par-6s do exist, but are exceptionally rare and an ace, or hole-in-one, has never been recorded on one.  There have been four condors recorded throughout history on par-5 holes.  This has occurred only once on a straight drive, for a record 517 yards, and never during a professional tournament. 
According to Billy Sandy, “Golf-a-holic”, on the golf forum,, and Stephen C. Carlson on his blog,, this most rare accomplishment was achieved at altitude on the par-5 No. 9 hole at the Green Valley Ranch Golf Club in Denver, Colorado.  The golfer who scored the condor is Mike Crean.  This ace or hole-in-one is thought to be the longest ever recorded.  The other three have been recorded on dog-legged left or right fairway par-5 holes where the golfers were able to "cut corners" and 'fly' their golf balls from tee to green and not have to negotiate the intended path intended by the course architect.  You may read more about the four golfers who have scored "condors" on the Club Members and Club Stats pages on this site. 
A condor is also known as a "triple-eagle" or a "double-albatross".  It should be pointed out that both of these terms are mathematically incorrect.  The use of the name "condor" is a continuation of the "bird" theme in naming all under-par scores related to the size of the bird becoming bigger as the score gets lower; i.e. birdie, eagle, albatross and condor.
 Ostrich, Five-Under-Par, -5
An "ostrich" is a hole-in-one on a par-6 hole.  This score has never been recorded and is widely considered impossible, considering that par-6s are extremely long and very rare.

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