How 'par' became a golf term

By T.J. Auclair
Published on
How 'par' became a golf term

Have you ever wondered how, or why, the term "par" became a part of the golf vernacular?
It was something I wondered recently when looking back at scores from Open Championships and U.S. Opens in the 1800s and early 1900s. 
In those championships, a player's total score was tallied by the number of strokes they took -- obviously -- but there was no designation explaining where that total stood in relation to par.
For example, Horace Rawlins won the first U.S. Open in 1895 at Newport Country Club -- just 36 holes; four loops around the course's nine holes at the time -- with a score of 173. 
His scores were 91-82. Based on Newport's par-70 layout today, that would have been a 34-over 173.
Be honest. How many of you are thinking: I could be a U.S. Open Champion?!
The word "par," officially entered the golf lexicon in 1911 when the USGA put it in play. But the word itself was around long before that. 
Generally, "par" was used when talking about stocks, as in, "a stock may be above or below its normal or par figure," according to the USGA.
For golf purposes, the USGA defined "par" as, "the score that an expert player would be expected to make for a given hole. Par means expert play under ordinary weather conditions, allowing two strokes on the putting green."
Prior to the 1900s, "par" was actually a term used interchangeably with "bogey," but "bogey" was the term more universally used. 
Eventually, it was decided that "par" should be used to identify the "ideal score" on a given hole, while "bogey" would be the term used to describe a score that recreational golfers would be happy with.
Here are the yardage variables that were used to determine a holes "par" in 1911:
Par 3 - Up to 225 yards
Par 4 - 225 to 425 yards
Par 5 - 426 to 600 yards
Par 6 - 601 yards or more
Wouldn't touring pros love it if those specific yardages were used to identify a hole's par today? 
Those numbers changed in 1917:
Par 3 - Up to 250 yards
Par 4 - 251 to 445 yards
Par 5 - 446 to 600 yards
Par 6 - 601 yards or more
And, finally, they were last updated in 1956, which is incredible when you consider the innovations in golf technology since then and especially in the last 20 years:
Par 3 - Up to 250 yards
Par 4 - 251 to 470 yards
Par 5 - 471 yards or more
So, if you ever look at scores from golf tournaments from way back and wonder why you can't find a total in relation to par, all of this is the reason why.