Golfers around the world have Scotland to thank for inventing this great game, but the term “birdie” is actually an all-American term. Specifically, Atlantic City Country Club is where the fluttery phrase for shooting one under par came to be—and boy, do they let you know about it.The origins of this conception vary slightly, but the gist is that during a round in 1903 Abner “Ab” Smith launched a long approach shot on ACCC’s par-4 12th hole (now No. 2) that wound up within kick-in range of the cup. The result caused one of the group’s members (Ab’s brother William and Pine Valley architect George Crump rounded out the threesome) to exclaim it was a “bird of a shot!” At the time, “bird” was slang for something pretty swell or really neat or whatever else they said at the turn of the 20th century.Also of note was that the group was playing for a few bucks (obviously). According to Scottish Golf History, Ab said he should get double the money for an under-par score and somehow his playing partners agreed to these ad-hoc terms and a tradition was born.
As time went on, the story got better—as stories often do. Ab claimed it actually happened in 1899 and that he both made the birdie and said, “That’s a bird of a shot!” No self-esteem problems there! According to “The Book of the Birdie” by William Kelly, The Atlantic City Press added a fourth golfer to the group, A.W. Tillinghast, and legendary golf writer Charles Price wrote that Smith’s shot had “first struck a bird in flight.” So this tale about a bird also became a big fish story. Amazing.
In any event, the term “birdie” was coined, which, according to Price was an “abomination in the eyes of the British.” And more than a century later, like bird poop to the windshield of my car every time I park outside, it has stuck.