What is an Albatross in Golf?

titleist golf ball on a tee

If you're new to the sport, golf scoring terms can make it difficult to follow the announcers at professional tournaments and to carry on conversations with more experienced players. One of the biggest questions that new players often have is "what is an albatross in golf?" 

Part of the reason for the mystery around the term is that an albatross in golf is very rare. In fact, the odds of getting one are 6 million to one. The short answer to the question "what is an albatross?" is that it's when a player comes in three under par on a hole. It happens most often with two strokes on a five par but can also occur with a hole in one on a four-par hole. Now that you know the basic albatross meaning, let's dive into what it means for players to achieve one and explore the history of the term. 

Understanding Golf Scoring Terminology 

Before we get into the albatross golf term, let's review the other key golf scoring terms. They are: 

  • Par: The number of strokes a player is expected to need to get the ball into the hole 
  • Birdie: Scoring 1 under par 
  • Eagle: Scoring 2 under par. Sometimes the albatross is called a double eagle 
  • Condor: Scoring 4 under par by getting a hole in one on a five-par, an even rarer achievement than the albatross 
  • Ace: A hole in one. An albatross or a condor can also be an ace 
  • Bogey: Scoring 1 over par 
  • Double bogey: Scoring 2 over par 
  • Triple bogey: Scoring 3 over par 
  • Quadruple bogey: Scoring 4 over par 

Knowing these golf terms will help you describe your own performance on the course in the terms that players use. Plus, you'll be able to more easily understand recaps and live broadcasts of golf tournaments when you know the terminology. 

The Origin of the Term Albatross in Golf 

There's some mystery and debate surrounding how a three-under-par score became known as an albatross. In 1929, a newspaper article published in Scotland referred to the term as if it were well established, but no references to the term in print before that time have been discovered. We do know that in August 1931, the press reported on a golfer named E.E. Wooler scoring an albatross. 

Some people have suggested that the word albatross was chosen for the difficult score because of the unique abilities of the albatross bird. The species is able to travel long distances out into the ocean and have been known to follow ships for extended periods of time. Like the albatross bird, the albatross golf shot requires the ball to go a very long distance. 

While we may never know exactly who came up with the term albatross, there is more information about why bird terms are used in golf to begin with. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, saying something was "bird" was like saying it was cool. When golfers performed well on the course, they would say it was bird. Eventually, that idea inspired the term birdie, and it seems that additional golf scoring term names were chosen to continue with the bird theme. 

Why Is Scoring an Albatross Such a Big Deal? 

So why all the fuss about the albatross? One of the biggest reasons why it's such a big deal is its rarity. As previously mentioned, the odds of achieving one are very low. A player needs to have incredible skill to be able to hit the ball such a great distance, but there is also an element of luck as weather and ground conditions can also affect how far the ball goes and how precise its trajectory is. A lot of things have to line up perfectly for a player to score an albatross, and when it happens, it can feel like magic. 

Since the albatross is so rare, only a handful of golfers will ever achieve one. Joining the so-called Double Eagle Club gives golfers a sense of accomplishment, regardless of their experience level. Plus, the rarity of the score means that everyone else is surprised and delighted. At tournaments, competitors come together to celebrate and congratulate the player who pulled off the feat, and fans become very excited. 

Rare and Memorable Albatrosses in Golf 

Albatrosses at professional tournaments are rare, but they do happen. One of the most recent examples happened in 2009 when Nicholas Thompson scored not one but two during the Fry.com Open. Everyone was thrilled when he got his first with a two on a five-par hole. When he achieved his second with a hole in one on a par-four, it was unbelievable, and everyone from the fans to the announcers needed a moment to recover. 

The first player ever to score an albatross at a Majors tournament was Gene Sarazen. He pulled off the feat in 1935 on hole 15 at The Masters. Sarazen was a very notable player in his time. He also was the first to ever win the Grand Slam by coming in on top at The Masters, US Open, British Open, and PGA Championships all in one year. 

In the history of the PGA, only 18 albatrosses have ever been scored during the majors. The fact that the sport's most elite players so infrequently score an albatross is a testament to how difficult it truly is and reinforces the idea that any player who manages to achieve one deserves ample praise for their form, skill and ability to perform under the pressure of tournaments. 

Experience the Excitement of Golf 

To review, the albatross is a three-under-par score and one of the rarest achievements in the game. History remembers professionals who managed to score one, and in the moment, an albatross electrifies and energizes both players and spectators at tournaments. Most players will never experience the achievement for themselves, but they can still have exciting moments of their own on the course. Tell us about your golf scoring achievements—albatross and otherwise— and check out our Devereux's New Arrivals and Golf Polos, to gear up for your next tee time. 

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