Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of golf to an outside is its fanciful use of birds to represent good shots, but how did these birds come about? The event is surprisingly well documented and we know the exact time and place it occurred, but there is important knowledge to know beforehand.
Bird = Cool?
In the late 19th century to the early 20th century bird was very common slang among people. The word was today’s equivalent of cool, so common golf dialogue would look something along the lines of, “That was a bird of a shot!” This was common until in 1903 at the Atlantic City Country Club a group of golfers including Ab Smith were playing a round of golf. They decided that if one of them plays a hole under par then they should win twice the money agreed upon in betting. The next time they hit under par they called it a birdie, thus beginning a term that has stood the test of time. There is now a plaque that celebrates the occurrence at the hole that it occurred. The term gained usage in the early 1910s, and slowly spread outside the United States
The other birds
The term Eagle, Albatross, and Condor all came about from a need to specify a word greater than a bridie. What is better than a common bird? an Eagle! This line of thinking then brought about the term Albatross, or three under par, and the Condor, four under par (which has only been verified to happen six times in history). If a golfer were to hypothetically shoot five under par, then that would be an ostrich, which has never happened in recorded history. The main issue being that a golfer would have to get a hole in one of a par six, which most golfers go their entire lives without playing, or shoot two on a par seven, which there are only a handful of. Even further there is a phoenix, for 6 under par, although this shot is essentially impossible with our current club technology.
It seems that golfers still use the bird names purely because it is fun, and that is what golf is about, fun. It’s a shame that the most common bird on golf courses, the turkey, goes unrecognized however (maybe 7 under par?). Hopefully, during your next round of golf you can show off to your friends your new 20th century slang and knowledge of birds.
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