Tracing the Origins of Bogey as a Golf Term

Golf History FAQ: How did bogey enter the golf lexicon?

Colonel Bogey Tee cups, cardboard rings that served as golf tees
An early form of golf tee used the 'Colonel Bogey' character. Sarah Fabian-Baddiel/Heritage Images/Getty Images

You better watch out or the Bogey Man's gonna get you! The Bogey Man must have been a golfer, because he lent his name to a golf score of 1-over par.

At least, that's what the golf scoring term "bogey" means today: a stroke total one higher on a hole than that hole's par rating. If it's a par-4, and you make a 5, that's a bogey.

But the origins of "bogey" include the fact that it was originally used by golfers similar to the way that we use "par" today.

Let's go back to British golf in the late 1800s and see how bogey emerged as a golf term.

Yes, Golf's Bogey Is Related to 'the Bogey Man'

According to the USGA Museum, the "Bogey Man" was a character in a British song of the late 19th Century, a song titled Here Comes the Bogey Man. And yes, that was the bogey man (many today pronounce it "boogie man"). He lived in the shadows and said in song, "I'm the Bogey Man, catch me if you can."

In the 1890s, British golfers developed a way of rating golf holes: how many strokes should it take to play the hole? This is what we call "par" today, but at that time, when scores were much higher throughout golf than they are today, the number was originally called the "ground score."

So British golfers of that era tried to match or beat the "ground score" for a hole. Someone then recalled the lyrics of that song ("I'm the Bogey Many, catch me if you can"), thought, "hey, we're trying to catch the ideal score," and started talking about "chasing the bogey man" rather than "chasing the ground score." Funny how some words develop, eh?

Over the next few years, British golfers even developed an imaginary character named Colonel Bogey. Golfers trying to beat the bogey score were trying to "beat Colonel Bogey." That character appeared in song in the Colonel Bogey March, published in 1913, and, as the photo on this page shows, appeared on golf products.

The Meanings of Bogey and Par Diverge

While that was happening in British golf in the late 1800s and early 1900s, in American golf the term "par" was entering the golf lexicon. The USGA began officially using par to rate golf holes and courses in 1911.

But golf scores had improved in the years since "bogey" first appeared. "Par" was defined as the score an expert golfer, playing the hole well, would get. So in the first years in which par and bogey were both in use, they began to diverge. There was a brief time when some golf courses listed both a hole's par rating and its bogey rating, and sometimes those numbers were the same. More commonly over time, however, the bogey rating started being listed as one stroke higher than the par rating.

And that's how we got to where we are today. Par is the score an expert golfer is expected to make on a hole; bogey is 1-over par.

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Sources: USGA, R&A, The Historical Dictionary of Golf

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