Tracing the Origins of Bogey as a Golf Term

The Story Behind the Unusual Way 'Bogey' Entered 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: the definition of bogey is a stroke total on a single gole that is one stroke higher than that hole's par rating. If the hole is a par-4, and you make a score of five, that's a bogey. ("Bogey" has sometimes, in its history, been spelled "bogie," but that is considered a misspelling today.)

But the origins of "bogey" include the fact that it was originally used by golfers similar to the way that we use "par" today. Par and bogey were not necessarily interchangeable terms, but a golf hole's par rating and bogey rating were often the same.

We must go back to British golf in the late 1800s to 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 dancehall 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."

British golfers by at least the 1880s 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." And "ground score" wasn't what a great golfer playing the hole well would score, but rather what a skilled amateur would be expected to make playing the hole without any large mistakes.

So British golfers of that era tried to match or beat the "ground score" for a hole. Around 1890, according to The Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms, a certain Charles Wellman, playing golf at Great Yarmouth in England, exclaimed one day on the links that the ground score was "a regular Bogey Man," referring to the song.

As the lyrics of the song said, "I'm the Bogey Many, catch me if you can," golfers, thanks to Mr. Wellman, began thinking of a hole's ground score as "chasing the bogey man."

Hello, Colonel Bogey

In very short order after "bogey" replaced "ground score" in the golfer's lexicon, golfers invented an imaginary character to personify the golf score. That character was "Colonel Bogey." The Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms cites an 1892 newspaper article that refers to Colonel Bogey, so the character was well-known within just a year or two of the origins of "bogey" itself.

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 Colonel Bogey March, by the way, was later made instantly recognizable as the famous music in the movie The Bridge on the River Kwai.)

When the Meanings of Bogey and Par Diverged

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

But golf scores had improved in the years since "bogey" first appeared. The USGA thus defined "par" as the score an expert golfer, playing the hole well, should be expected to achieve. So in the first years in which par and bogey were both in use in the United States, their meanings 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 began 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.