What Is a Birdie in Golf? Meaning and How to Earn One

Two golfers prepare to putt their balls into the hole.

Step foot on a golf course and oftentimes you are immersed in a sprawling natural landscape full of trees, lakes, rivers, wildlife, and birdies. A birdie might not have two wings, but scoring a birdie might be something to sing about.

So, what is a birdie in golf?

A birdie is a term for a score that is one under par. For instance, a birdie on a par 4 hole would be a score of 3. Par represents the standardized score for any hole relative to its length so an under-par score means it took fewer shots than expected to hole the ball from start to finish.

The purpose of golf is to get the ball into the hole in as few strokes as possible. Any golfer will tell you that they are trying to make a birdie on every hole they play. However, scoring a birdie is very hard to do but when accomplished, it can create memories that last a lifetime.

Are Birdies Good in Golf?

Yes, scoring a birdie is not just good, it’s great. To score a birdie, several things are required of the golfer and they are not mutually exclusive.

  • Skill – The golfer must have some level of skill and ability to hit a golf ball. The minimum number of strokes to record a birdie is two (on a par 3) so that means at least one of those shots had to be hit very well. To score a birdie on a par 4 or 5, the golfer is often required to hit two, three, or even 4 very good shots. However, there is always…
  • Luck – Luck cannot only overcome a golfer’s lack of skill, but it can also enhance it. Luck, however, is certainly not something that can be relied upon. It often lies dormant, until like a sudden cool breeze on a hot summer day, it appears out of nowhere. Luck on the golf course usually comes in the form of a friendly bounce out of the rough or bunker into the fairway or a ricochet off of a tree, cart path, house, or rock that fortuitously comes to rest on the putting green. Golfers often never witness their lucky bounces because they are too far away or their view is obstructed by elevation changes or dense trees.

How to Score a Birdie in Golf

Aerial view of a golf course in the desert.

Since recording a birdie requires the golfer to hit at least one good shot per hole, let’s take a look at several different shots hit during play of a par 4 hole to provide tips for practicing and improving your chances of scoring a birdie.

First Shot

On a par four, a golfer will typically use a driver because it hits the ball the furthest.

However, golf courses often require the golfer to play more strategically because the placement of bunkers, water hazards, trees, doglegs (refers to a hole that bends left or right, often looking like the shape of a dog’s hind leg) and even the varied width of the fairway are factors to consider when hitting your opening shot of the hole.

Here are some tips to improve strategic planning:

  • Judge Mother NatureWind is going to affect the direction of the ball and how far it travels. For example, a 10 mph headwind on a 140-yard shot may lose up to 12 yards (yds) of distance while a 10 mph tailwind at the same distance may add up to 7 yds of distance.
  • Pick a Target Where You Want the Ball to Land – The opening shot of a golf hole can be very intimidating, whether it is because you are hitting in front of complete strangers or because the fairway looks like a dinner plate in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Either way, your brain, and your swing will respond better when it is given commands on where to go, instead of where not to go.
  • Play from a Forward Tee – Ideally, the shorter the hole the easier it is. So if you are looking for more birdie opportunities per round, play from a shorter tee box and make sure to nail each tee shot.

Second Shot

Second shots on par 4’s are typically shorter in distance than the first shot so the golfer will often require the use of an iron or wedge. Here are a few things to consider when hitting from the fairway, also known as the short grass.

  • Where is the Flag Located? – Knowing where the flag is located on the green will help the golfer identify the best places to land the ball for the easier birdie putt. Remember that most distances provided on golf courses are to the middle of the green unless otherwise stipulated.
  • Front of the Green – If the flag is on the front of the green, consider playing aggressively and going for it. If hazards and bunkers surround the sides and back of the green, consider a more conservative shot that lands short of the green allowing the ball to bounce or roll onto the green and next to the hole.
  • Back of the Green – Play this a bit more conservatively as being too aggressive may cost you by hitting the ball over the green and into trouble.
  • Behind a Bunker – If you can, figure out the distance needed to carry the bunker and make it 5 yds past that minimum yardage you want the ball to carry. You can hole out a bunker shot for birdie but it is much harder than a putt.
  • Next to a Water Hazard – Aim at the side of the green opposite the water. Again, it is much easier to make a putt than it is to hit a ball out of the water and into the hole.
  • Purchase a Golf Rangefinder – Golfers are permitted to use range finders that tell the exact distance to specific targets like yardage to the hole or the carry distance over a bunker. Exact distances will help you judge which club to hit and may even help speed up play.

Third Shot

You’ve made it to the shot where the ball must go in to record a birdie on a par 4. Here is how to handle a few situations you may encounter:

  • Ball on the Green, Close to the Hole – If your ball lies feet or even inches from the hole, do not take for granted that you will automatically make the putt. Stay calm, keep your head still, commit to the line of your putt, and listen for the ball to go in.
  • Ball on the Green, Far from the Hole – When faced with a long putt (over 25 feet) chances are you probably won’t make it so most golfers hit what is called a lag putt, or a putt that is meant to get as close to the hole as possible, anything inside 3 feet is a good lag putt.
  • Understand Break – Like water, a ball will roll with the contour of the putting green. Since most putts are rarely straight, the golfer must judge how far right or left of the hole to aim to depend on how much break, or slope, they perceive in the putt.
  • Speed is Everything – A putt hit too hard will roll through a break while a putt hit too slow will break too much. Spend a few moments on the practice green before your rounds to learn how fast or slow the green speed is to be better prepared on the golf course.
  • Ball off the Green, but on the Fringe – The fringe is the area of short grass surrounding the green and it is usually cut the same height as the fairway grass. If the ball is just onto the fringe, treat this shot like a putt and proceed as if you were on the putting green. However, if you find yourself several feet to several yards off the putting green try using a 9-iron or pitching wedge to hit a low, rolling chip towards the hole. Keep in mind that a ball rolling is more likely to go into the hole than a ball bouncing or flying into the hole.

How Many Birdies Do Pros Average?

A golfer crouches down to judge how to take her next shot.

The PGA TOUR average for birdies in a round for the 2021 season is 3.82. This number is relative because PGA TOUR professional golfers play on some of the most difficult golf courses in the world.

It is safe to say if professional golfers played where the average golfer plays from, they would expect to make two, three, even four times that number.

For reference, the record for the most birdies in an 18-hole round on the tour is 13. The feat has been achieved twice, by Chip Beck in 1991 and Adam Hadwin in 2017.

What Is the Lowest Score on the PGA Tour?

The lowest recorded score in professional golf is a 58 by PGA TOUR Professional Jim Furyk at TPC River Highlands in Connecticut for the 2016 Travelers Championship.

Furyk recorded 10 birdies and 1 eagle on the par 70 course to shoot 12-under in the opening round of the tournament. In all, there are 12 sub-60 rounds recorded by PGA TOUR Professionals.

Perhaps the most memorable 59 ever scored was by David Duval in the final round of the 1999 Bob Hope Classic. Starting the round 7-shots behind the leader, Duval scored 11 birdies on the first 17 golf holes and finished his round with an eagle on the 18th hole to win by 1 stroke.

So far, there is no record of anyone making a birdie on every hole in an 18 hole round.

Where Does the Term Birdie Come from in Golf?

The term birdie comes from the early 20th-century American slang term ‘bird’ which at the time was used to refer to anything excellent.

It is said that three men, Ab Smith, his brother William P. Smith and golf course architect and hotelier George A. Crump, were playing golf at Atlantic City Club when Ab Smith first used the term in this way.

On the par 4, 2nd hole at the Atlantic City Club, Ab hit his second shot within inches of the hole and exclaimed ‘That was a bird of a shot!’. After making the putt, the score was henceforth known as a ‘birdie’.

The term later crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1913 when English golf writer Bernard Darwin wrote, “It takes a day or two for the English onlooker to understand that… a ‘birdie’ is a hole done in a stroke under par.”

What Is Better Than a Birdie?

There are several scores in golf that are better than a birdie, they are just much harder to come by and are typically scored because the golfer is either really, really good, or really, really lucky. Here they are listed in order from highest to lowest under par:

  • Eagle – A score of 2-under par, an example is a score of 3 on a par 5 or also known as a hole in one on a par 3.
  • Albatross or Double Eagle – A score of 3-under par, occurring as a hole in one on a par 4, a 2 on a par 5, or a 3 on a par 6.
  • Condor – A score of 4-under par, occurring as an ace or hole in one on a par 5 or a score of 2 on a par 6.

What Is the Best Shot in Golf Called?

A golfer in stripes and cargo shorts tees off with his driver.

The best shot in golf is called an ‘ace’. Often referred to as a ‘hole-in-one’, the reason it is the best golf shot is that it represents the best score in golf – a score of 1. An ace in golf happens when the golfer puts the ball in the golf hole with one swing from the teeing ground.

Golf is a difficult game to master and it often takes years of practice to develop a consistent, repeatable swing. This makes scoring an ace in golf one of the hardest things to accomplish as a golfer.

To score an ace in golf, the golfer needs one of two things. First, the golfer needs to be precise with their swing, as it requires skill in both the direction the ball is hit and the distance the golf ball travels. Secondly, golfers often require a little bit of luck to record an ace.

Luck usually comes in the form of incredibly fortunate bounces or deflections off say a tree or cart path towards the hole or the ball, traveling too fast to fall in on its own, collides with the flagstick squarely, and goes in the golf hole.

What Are Other Scores in Golf Called?

You know the name of every score that is under par, but what about the scores that are over par? Here is a list of the rest of the scores along with a chart that visually correlates scores with their names for each type of hole par.

  • Par – A par is a score equal to the number of strokes designated on the golf hole, i.e. a score of 3 on par 3.
  • Bogey – A score of 1-over par.
  • Double Bogey – A score of 2-over par or a 7 on a par 5, for instance.
  • Triple, Quadruple, or Quintuple Bogey – As the names imply, these are scores of 3, 4, and 5-over par respectively.
A table showing golf scores in relation to par.

Steven G.

My name is Steven and I love everything sports! I created this website to share my passion with all of you. Enjoy!

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