What is an Albatross in Golf? Golfing Terms Explained for Everyone

Scoring in golf, just like most other aspects of the game, is full of intricacies and quirks. In this article, we will look at what is an albatross in golf, the history of the term, some statistics, and famous shots. Under par scores on a hole are now frequently referred to in avian terms.

The History of The Albatross in Golf

A par score on a hole is predetermined by the golf club and refers to the number of shots that a good golfer should require to get the ball from the tee into the hole.

Before the 1900s golf was scored in the number of shots under or below par. An albatross would be referred to as a 3 under par score.

This changed in the early 1900s when the term “Birdie” was coined after the American slang word “Bird” that referred to anything excellent. This term was accepted and used worldwide during the 1910s.

It was later extended to the term “Eagle” for scores that were 2 under par for the hole.  The term eagle was introduced as it was bigger, grander, more majestic than a little birdie.

Other terms used for a score below par on a hole are “albatross” for 3 under par and an extremely rare term, “condor” for 4 under par. Only 4 condors have ever been recorded.

An albatross is a large bird with an impressive wingspan that is exceedingly rare. Its name is an extremely apt name for such a rare feat in golf. You are more likely to score an ace (hole-in-one) than scoring an albatross.

What Exactly Is An Albatross?

Albatross is the term used when a player gets the ball into the cup using 3 shots less than the pare score for the hole. The term was initiated in Britain staying in line with the avian them of birdies and eagles.

The exact origin of the use of the term albatross is not clear. The first known reference to the term is in 1929 but it could have been in use before this. Prior to the release of steel-shafted clubs in the 1920s, there were too few golfers that achieved this feat to necessitate a term.

The first albatross reported in the press was scored by the South African golfer E. E. Wooler when he hit a hole-in-one on the par 4, 18th hole at Durban Country Club in1931.

It is not possible to score an albatross on a par 3 since you only get 3 shots to complete the hole.

To qualify as an albatross, you have to hole out your tee shot from a par 4. Initially, this was unlikely but with the equipment available today, the strength of the players and many tournaments setting up a risk-and-reward drivable par 4s it may become a more frequent occurrence on par 4s.

Par 5 holes require you to hole out on your approach shot and this is where most albatrosses are recorded. Of the 18 albatrosses scored in major championships, 17 have been scored on par 5s. Considering that only approximately 10% of golfers have the length and ability to reach a par 5 in 2 shots, the other 90% of golfers don’t have a chance of ever making an albatross.

The only albatross in major tournaments that was recorded on a par 5 was the one scored by Young Tom Morris on the first hole of the first round of the open championship on September 17, 1870. This was achieved on a par 6 which is not often used in major golf

According to the National Hole in One Association you are less likely to score an albatross than a hole-in-one. The odds of making a hole-in-one is 12,700 to 1 for amateur golfers and 3,700 to 1 for professional golfers.

The odds of achieving an albatross are set at 6 million to 1. The chances of being struck by lightning (1 in 555,000) making it more likely that you will be struck by lightning than scoring an albatross.

The Rarity of Albatrosses in Golf

Besides a “condor”, an albatross is the rarest shot in golf. Only 1 golfer has been able to achieve this feat twice in major tournaments. The only golfer to score 2 albatrosses in a major tournament is Jeff Maggert in the Masters in the 4th round on the par 5, 13th hole on 5 April 10, 1994, and in the 1st round par 5, 6th hole of the Open Championship on July 19, 2001

Some Facts About Albatrosses in Major Tournaments

  • Only 18 Albatrosses in men’s’ Major history and 4 in women’s major tournaments
  • 4 in the Masters (last achieved in 2012)
  • 3 in the U.S. Open (last achieved in 2012)
  • 18 in The Open Championship (oldest major) (last achieved in 2009)
  • 3 in the PGA Championship (last achieved in 2006)
  • 3 in Women’s Open championship (last achieved in 2014)

The first professional golfer to record an albatross in one of the modern major events was Gene Sarazen. He achieved this on the par 5, 15th hole of the 1935 Masters and forced a playoff which he subsequently won.

Double Eagle vs Albatross

The term albatross has been in use for several decades around the world, but you may hear the term “Double eagle” frequently being used in the U.S. Both terms refer to the same number of shots under par achieved on a hole

The term “double eagle” dates back to reports in the American newspaper articles the day after Gene Sarazen scored his albatross, or is it a double eagle, in the 1935 Masters which he went on to win.

Traditionalists are not enamored with the use of the term “double eagle”. 3-time major champion Padraig Harrington reportedly said

It’s an albatross. There’s no such thing in life as a double eagle. Is there? Two eagles side by side are two eagles, not a double eagle. You don’t refer to animals … ‘Oh, I just saw a double-elephant over there.’ There’s no doubting what it is. It’s an albatross.

In Conclusion

Scoring an albatross is one of the most unlikely scores on a hole. Only 10% of golfers are capable of achieving this.

The odds of achieving this heat is rated as 6,000,000 to 1 compared to odds of 5,000 to one of a low handicap golfer scoring an ace.

So, if you manage to score an albatross, remind your playing partners that the odds of them scoring one is 17,000,000 to 1.

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Nick is the founder of GolfSpan and an avid golfer. He's not quite a pro but has over 15 years of experience playing and coaching golfers worldwide. His mission is to bring the golfing community a better experience when it comes to choosing the right golf gear and finding the right setup for your game.

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