With excitement mounting over the forthcoming Ryder Cup tournament (okay, I’m not interested in golf either, but I promise you it is a major event on the sporting calendar) today’s tale relates to that ancient game (with, because it’s almost my birthday, a supplementary word origin thrown in free of charge).
I plagiarised – sorry, re-imagined – this one from a book called Can We Have Our Balls Back, Please by Julian Norridge. It’s a genuinely interesting look into the British origins of so many sports in their modern, organised guises, such as golf, cricket, tennis, badminton, table tennis and (oh yes, America) baseball. When golf caught the public’s imagination and clubs and tournaments began to spring up, it soon became apparent that some sort of handicap system would be needed. Enter Dr Thomas Browne, RN, of the Great Yarmouth Club. His solution was to compare players’ scores to those of a hypothetical opponent who could achieve a perfect score at every hole. It was pointed out to Dr Browne that this imaginary opponent would be a real bogey man – thus, the perfect score became known as the bogey score. But a “bogey” isn’t the perfect score, you cry! Bear with me. As players, courses and equipment got better, the bogey score had become too generous –
thus the ideal score was adjusted to ‘par’ (a term which was already in use in golf and everyday speech). So now, a bogey was a score one stroke over par. It was quite rightly decided that this Bogey Man needed a rank of some sort, and he was arbitrarily appointed Colonel. Skip forward a couple of decades to a man who forsook the customary cry of ‘Fore‘ to warn other players that a fast-moving projectile might be heading their way. Instead he preferred a distinctive two note whistle. Another golfer who happened to be a musician quite liked the sound of it and decided to turn it into a tune heard – which he called Colonel Bogey!