The golf terms etymology

Non-golf players are constantly confused through the odd choice of words and phrases which are of standard utilization within the game’s lexicon and I have frequently been quizzed about the etymology of such terms and conditions although getting luxury golfing holiday seasons. The fact is that the language of playing golf could be confusing and yet the most of golf players have no clue about how exactly terms like ‘birdie’, ‘bogey’golf equipment and ‘mulligan’ became so intrinsically associated with the greens and fairways.

A number of these answers happen to be lost to history however in their place numerous ideas from the origins of playing golf phrases have sprung up; I shall develop on these here.

Playing golf

To begin with, let’s acquire one misunderstanding taken care of in the beginning. Golfing doesn’t, and has not been an phrase for ‘Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden’ although some people might playing golf committees would like it this way!

One concept would be that the phrase golfing comes from the medieval Dutch word « kolve » which means « golf club ». After that, we’ve got Scottish dialect to thank for its transformation into « golve ». Yet another concept would be that the origins from the term golfing come from the Scottish « goulf » – a verb which intended « to struck or cuff », due to the game includes lots of striking the golf ball.

Either way, through the 1500s, the phrase « golf » acquired from all of these routes.


Contrary to popular belief, the phrase « par » didn’t begin around the golfing course. It entered golf terms within the 19th Century, and meant exactly the same thing that it did (and does) outside of golf: average, standard, ordinary.


Perhaps one of the most weird phrases within the golfing lexicon, this can be a word that truly developed right here in England. It discount golf clubs applies to the Bogey Man who in the 19th Century song said « I’m the Bogey Man, catch me if you can ». According to the USGA, golfers at the time pursued the Bogey Man on the golf course – as in they were trying to ‘catch’ the perfect score. This led to the term ‘bogey score’ meaning the perfect game.

But now the term bogey denotes one over par, rather than the perfect score, so how did that happen? It came about with the split between professional and amateur golf – from both words being initially interchangeable, par went on to become the term for an average professional score, while bogey became the term for a total that amateur golfers could be pleased with.

Birdies and Eagles

The term ‘birdie’ is quite easy to explain – if you have knowledge of 19th Century American slang words! In that era, the word « bird » was a way of describing something particularly good – much in the way ‘cool’ was (and is) used more recently. Simply, a shot under par was ‘bird’, and this eventually transformed into ‘birdie’, which was in worldwide use by 1910.

From there, « Eagle » was to follow, simply sticking to the ornithological theme. « Albatross » was a later addition to the golfing vernacular.


Unfortunately, there’s no straight answer to discount golf equipment how the term Mulligan became a golfing term for retaking a shot. A number of theories have emerged:

The first is simply that it was named after someone called Mulligan who took a ‘correction shot’, and had the do-over named after him.

A more interesting theory is that the term is actually an ethnic slur against Irish-Americans (Mulligan being a common Irish name) trying to join top class golf clubs, as they were often regarded as poor golfers.

A final suggestion is that the term is derived from old saloons who would keep a free bottle of drink at the bar for customers to take shots from. Allegedly this bottle was called a ‘mulligan’, and it’s possible that this term took on a similar meaning as a ‘freebie’ in golf.


The only thing that can be said with any certainty about the origin of this golf word is that it does derive from the fact that ‘fore’ means ‘ahead’ (like a ship’s fore and aft) – and it remains to this day a warning to those ahead of you on the course.

There are two popular theories as to the specifics of the term’s usage on the golf course: The first is that the term has military Mizuno MP-69 routes. At the time golf was properly taking off in Britain, infantry troops would advance in formation while artillery was fired from behind. When the artillery fired, there would be a shout of « beware before », which would tell infantrymen to drop to the floor to avoid the shells above. It’s entirely possible that this advice applied to the golf course – with shells being replaced by the less dangerous golf ball!

The second is that it came from the term « forecaddie » – a person who accompanied groups around golf courses. The idea behind this is that an errant ball would be accompanied by shouting out « forecaddie » which would later be abbreviated to ‘fore’, just like the other half has been shortened to ‘caddie’.

So, the next time the topic of strange words SLDR Driver comes up on a luxury golf holiday, you can explain with confidence that there is (some) method to the etymological madness!