Bogey to Blow-Up

There is quite a history behind the golfing terms bogey, par, birdie, eagle and albatross.

Bogey and par were central to the development of handicapping, pioneered by the LGU. The modern meaning of three of the terms - bogey, birdie and eagle - comes from their use in USA.


Bogey

"Bogey" was the first stroke 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 standardising the number of shots at each hole that a good golfer should take, which he called the 'ground score.'

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Great Yarmouth where term Bogey was first coined

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 CA 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 'bogle' was a Scottish goblin as far back as the 16th Century and a Bogey-man 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. This allowed the introduction of bogey competitions, which we would call handicap competitions or stablefords. 

On 2nd January 1892, The Field reported that 'a novelty was introduced in the shape of a bogey tournament for a prize. ... Fourteen couples started but the bogey defeated them all.'

In 1892, Colonel Seely-Vidal, the Hon Secretary of the United Servic es Club at Gosport, 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. 

Later, in the middle of 20th century, bogey was used as the term of one above par.


Par

Par is derived from the stock exchange term that a stock may be above or below its normal or 'par' figure. In 1870, Mr AH Doleman, a golf writer, asked 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.

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Tom Morris Jnr Youngest Open Winner

Although the first noted use of the word "par" in golf was in Britain and predates the  bogey, today's rating system does not and the par standard was not further developed until later. It was the Ladies Golf Association, who, from 1893, began to develop a national handicapping system for women. It was largely in place by the end of the Century. The Men's association, founded in 1894, followed suit a few year's 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 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 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 1914-18 intervened and it was not until 1925 that a Golf Unions' 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 Unions of each country (and not the Royal and Ancient) who determine pars and handicaps.


Birdie

"Birdie", meaning a score of one stroke under Par, comes from the early 19th century American slang term "bird", meaning anything excellent. The September 1911 edition of Maclean Magazine described a golf shot as - '"bird" straight down the course, about two hundred and fifteen yards.'  

The Country Club in Atlantic City lay claim to the first use of the word 'birdie' itself, as mentioned on the USGA website. In 1962 the US greenkeepers' magazine reported a conversation with Ab Smith. He recounted that, in 1898/9, he and his brother, William P Smith, and their friend, George A Crump, who later built Pine Valley, were playing the par-four second hole at Atlantic City, when Ab Smith's second shot went within inches of the hole. Smith said "That was a bird of shot" and claimed he should get double money if he won with one under par, which was agreed. He duly holed his putt to win with one under par and the three of them thereafter referred to such a score as a "birdie". The Atlantic City Club date the event to 1903.

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The First Birdie Hole, Courtesy of Atlantic City County Club

By 1913, the term had crossed the Atlantic and Bernard Darwin writing in the September 1913 issue of  Country Life of a visit to the USA said 

"It takes a day or two for the English onlooker to understand that ... a 'birdie' is a hole done in a stroke under par."


Eagle

Sea Eagle Fife

White tailed Sea Eagle, courtesy of RSPB

"Eagle", a score of two under par for a given hole, was clearly the extension of the theme of birds for good scores from a "birdie". It would be natural for American golfers to think of the eagle, which is their national symbol and the term seems to have developed only shortly after the 'birdie'.

Ab Smith (see Birdie above) said that his group referred to two under as an 'eagle'.

By 1922 the term was also being used in Britain. Cecil (Cecilia) Leitch described a putt for a 3 on a par-5 hole as 'securing what is known in American golfing parlance as an "eagle"' (Golf XII 1922 p 202). 


 Albatross

Albatross is the term for three under par and is a continuation of the birdie and eagle theme, but is in fact a British term. Ab Smith said his group used the phrase 'double eagle' for three under (see Birdie above), which is still the term most Americans and the name for their Double Eagle Club (membership by invitation only).

Three under par is a very rare score and an albatross is a very rare bird. The exact origin is unclear but the first known reference in 1929 indicates that it had been in use for some time before then.  John G Ridland, who scored an 'albatross' in India in 1934, theorized that it was the introduction of steel shafted clubs in 1920s which made this score achievable enough to necessitate a name for it. 

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Durban Country Club 18th Hole site of first recorded albatross, a hole-in-one on 271 yard par-4

The first ‘albatross’ score reported as such in the press is from South Africa when E E Wooler scored a hole-in-one on 10th August 1931 on the 18th hole of the Durban Country Club which is a par-4. It cost £40 in drinks but, had he known that he was making history, he would not have minded. 

More details of the first albatrosses, are given in  The Albatross has Landed in News section. 


Double, Triple and Quadruple Bogies

Interestingly, no standard terms for 2 or 3 or more over Par have emerged. They are just double and triple Bogeys and so on. Some golfers use terms from bingo and elsewhere for particular numbers. For example, an eight is a ‘Snowman’ because of their common shape. In a Stableford, a null score (two over net Par) is sometimes called a ‘Blob’ in the UK, because of similar visual similarities. Depending upon how good you are, anything over 7, 8 or 9 will be a ‘Blow-up’ or a ‘Disaster’.

To me it seems clear that golfing terms came into popular use in much the same way as you find new words being invented and used on the Internet. If they sound good, people start using them. What we do not hear about are all the terms that never made it because they did not catch on. Only the future will tell which of the terms we invent will still be being used in a hundred years time.