Why Do They Call It a Birdie?

By Chuck Bednar

February 15, 1999
"Why Do They Call It a Birdie?" by Frank Coffey is a trivia book, packed with tons of interesting information. Sort of. Actually, maybe it's more like a coffee-table book, filled cover-to-cover with interesting and amusing anecdotes. Or maybe it’s a book designed to help non-golfers increase their knowledge of the game. Or maybe…

Well, let's just say that "Why Do They Call It a Birdie?" is unique. Each chapter of Coffey's book has a different focus, ranging from an outline of golf history to the best golf jokes ever told. While it reads more like a collection of golf tidbits than an actual book, "Why Do They Call It a Birdie?" is charming and vastly entertaining. It comes with my highest recommendations.

Chapter 1 is a quiz designed to test your golfing IQ. The questions range in difficulty from extremely easy ("Who is the Golden Bear?") to mind-numbingly difficult ("What twelve-year-old golfer won the New Mexico Amateur in 1969?"). Now, I'll admit I thought I had a pretty good grasp on the rules and history of golf, but more than half of the 53-questions in Coffey's quiz had me stumped.

The second chapter traces the roots of the game from its origin to today. While the later parts of Chapter 2, as it moves more toward modern golf, are somewhat extraneous and obvious, the beginning of the golf history section is interesting and informative. Did you know the roots of the game trace back to the Roman Empire? Or that Scotland had banned the game for several years in the 1400s?

Of course, there are some sections that many, including myself, will find dull or repetitive. Chapter 3 lists some of the top golfers of all time and give short bios of each. I would venture to say most educated golf aficionados would recognize most of the names and probably know the information listed for each golfer by heart. This, as well as many other sections of the book, is aimed toward a golf-ignorant audience. It's tough to discern exactly whom Coffey is writing for at times, and this muddles the focus of the book somewhat.

A clear example of this is found in the section devoted to golfing terminology. While a plethora of interesting terms such as "all square", "baffy", "jigger" and "spoons" are defined, some of the words discussed in the lexicon are downright insulting to our intelligence. Is there a golfer on the planet that doesn't know what a caddie or a hole-in-one is? Surely anyone who has played a round in their life is familiar with the term birdie or the term rough means? And if you don't know what the game of golf is then you have absolutely no reason to even by the book!

But the saving grace of the volume is the chapters on celebrity golfers, golf anecdotes, and golfing jokes. The humor found in these chapters makes "Why Do They Call It a Birdie?" well worth its $14.95 price tag. Did you know that Harpo Marx and George Burns once played a round of golf at the Hillcrest Country Club in their underwear? Or that Byron Nelson once compared Jack Lemmon's swing to beating a dead chicken? Just check out some of these classic quips:

- "Give me good clubs, fresh air, and a beautiful partner, and you can keep the clubs and fresh air" -- Jack Benny.

- "Golf has made more liars out of people than the income tax" -- Will Rogers.

- "I know I'm getting better at golf because I'm hitting fewer spectators" -- Gerald Ford.

- "It took me seventeen years to get three thousand hits in baseball. I did it in one afternoon in golf" -- Hank Aaron.

Add to all this chapters on the best golf courses in the world, other great golf books and publications, golf trivia, organizations and tournaments, and rules and etiquette, and you have a fantastic resource that is both informative and entertaining, useful and humorous. Best of all, the book is light reading and organized so that you can flip from chapter to chapter without being forced to read the entire text.

If you're on the lookout for a book that is easy to read and will teach and entertain at the same time, "Why Do They Call It a Birdie?" is definitely for you. While you won't leave knowing everything about the history of Augusta National, and you won't learn how to hit the perfect swing after finishing it, you will leave with a smile on your face and a few stories to tell at the next scramble.