Birdie in Golf: What the Scoring Term Means for Your Game

A Titleist golf ball rolling in for a birdie denoted by a score of 1-under par
The birdie is a sure sign of being better than old man par, one stroke better to be exact. (-1)

What is a Birdie in Golf?

In golf, “birdie” is the term used to indicate a score of 1-under par (-1). In other words, a birdie is what you get when you make one fewer stroke than is required to make par on a golf hole. It’s one of the most popular golf terms you’ll hear, even if you’ve never stepped foot on a golf course. There are several ways a player can record a birdie on the golf course, and we’ll cover a lot more on the scoring aspects as well as how to mark them on your score cards.

Here’s Everything Else You Need to Know About the Birdie in Golf

According to Scottish Golf History, “birdie” comes from the early 20th century slang term “bird.” The earliest recorded use of “birdie” dates back to 1903 at The Atlantic Club when AB Smith hit his second shot within inches of the hole. He very proudly called It “a bird of a shot” and request to be paid double if he holed his putt and won with 1-under par. His playing partners agreed and AB smith holed his putt to win with a score of 1-under par. From that day on, the score would be referred to as a “birdie.”  It was later mentioned in the 1911 edition of Maclean Magazine but not as a scoring term. At that time, “bird” was another way of saying “cool” or “excellent.” This term simply evolved over time to describe a score that is one stroke better (fewer) than the requirement for par.

The Scores that Result in a Birdie

Since a birdie doesn’t define an absolute score, there are several ways a player can card the very illusive score on the golf course. Birdie 5s and 6s, are the rarest because very few courses have holes that have a par of 6 or 7. Here’s a breakdown of all the scores that result in a birdie.
  • A score of 2 on a par 3
  • A score of 3 on a par 4
  • A score of 4 on a par 5
  • A score of 5 on a par 6
  • A score of 6 on a par 7

How to Mark a Birdie on Your Golf Scorecard

To mark a birdie on your scorecard, you can make one of two popular notations. The first uses 3 symbols, the plus sign (+) for over par, the minus sign (-) for under par, and a blank space for par. For this notation, you use the minus sign, coupled with the number one, for a birdie (-1). The second notation is used on the PGA tour because of its visual simplicity. For this notation, a birdie is marked as the number of stokes taken to complete the hole with a circle around it. Most players prefer the second notation because it allows them to easily see the number of birdies they have, if any, in a given round.

Is an Eagle the Same as a Birdie?

 While an eagle is a type of bird, it is not the same score. Similarly to how we have different degrees of bogies in golf, there are different degrees of birdies as well. The eagle is one stroke better than a birdie, giving a score of 2-under par (-2). Eagles are rare because they can happen as a result of three things. We'll go more in depth on that later. 

Put into Practice

Birdies are by no means easy to come by. If you’re just a weekend warrior that scores upwards of 90 or 100, your birdie opportunities will be few and far between. Treat those birdie putts with the utmost care and be sure to get the ball to the hole. If you are a scoring between 80 and 90 you’ll see more opportunities for birdies and record more as well. Once you’re able to break 80 more frequently, you’ll be staring at a mountain of opportunities to make birdies. Even still, you won’t be able to string them together as often as you see on Tour. Practice makes perfect so be sure to spend a lot of time on the putting green, as this will surely help you capture more birdies on the course.


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