Birdie comes from the American slang ’bird’ which meant something wonderful. As that term was applied to golf stems from a golf match at Atlantic City Country Club around the turn of the last century
The term birdie, to describe a score that is one under par for the hole, became widespread in the 1910s. Whereas bogey is a British contribution to the language of golf, birdie is pure American. There is even a plaque on a course in America recording the birth of the birdie. This plaque is at Atlantic City Country Club in New Jersey.
Atlantic City was a popular resort, with beaches, a boardwalk and a plethora of hotels. When the local economy was struggling in 1897, some local businessmen, mainly hoteliers, met to think of a way to revive the economy.
It was decided that a golf course should be built as an added lure for the area. The first nine holes of the 18-hole course together with the clubhouse opened in June 1898, in time for that year’s summer season. The club was a success and became a place for the fashionable and the local movers and shakers to meet and be seen.
There are several variations as to how, where and when the first birdie was scored. But there is agreement that it was during a game at the club with money waged on it. Some histories say it was a foursomes match; others that it was a three ball. But when one of the players, Abner or Ab Smith hit his ball to within a few inches, he hailed it as ‘a bird of shot’ and suggested that in future when one of them won a hole with a score under par they would receive double money.
The other two agreed, and from this they adopted the name ’birdie’ to describe this score. Some variations of the story have it as happening on the 2nd hole, and the players agreeing that the next time this happened they would pay out. The next time was on the 12th, so this was the first ’birdie’, not the one on the 2nd.
Other histories have the original suggestion coming at the 12th, and when Smith knocked in his gimme that was the first birdie. Either way the club commemorated the event with a stone plaque at the 12th hole, although this is now the site of the chipping green