What Is An Albatross In Golf?

What is an albatross in golf? Well, it's certainly a very rare bird indeed as we explain in this article...

Louis Oosthuizen celebrates an albatross in the 2012 Masters
Louis Oosthuizen high-fives his caddie after an incredible albatross on the 2nd hole in the final round of the 2012 Masters
(Image credit: Getty Images)

What Is An Albatross In Golf?

In golf, par is the score you achieve on a golf hole if you play it in regulation figures according to the scorecard, and virtually all golf holes have a par of 3, 4 or 5, with the occasional par 6 on a tiny number of courses. When you fare better than par on a hole, golf’s terminology ventures into the avian world to describe the achievement. It starts with the general term ‘birdie’ for one under par (e.g., a 3 on a par 4), originally an American slang term for ‘wonderful’; then the rarer and more impressive ‘eagle’ for a score of two under par on a hole; and finally ‘albatross’ for a score of three under par on a hole. Americans generally use the term ’double eagle’ where UK golfers would say ‘albatross’.

The progression is perhaps primarily related to the rarity of the birds in question, with 21 of the 22 species of albatross in the world lying somewhere between ‘vulnerable’ and ‘critically endangered’ according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. But there is also undoubtedly an element of how impressive the birds are as well, with the wandering albatross boasting the widest wingspan of any flying bird.

An albatross

In both golf and nature, the albatross is a very rare bird

(Image credit: Getty Images)

It is a fitting term, for the albatross in golf comes along once in a blue moon, either when a player holes his or her second shot on a par 5 or has a hole in one on a short par 4. While virtually all golfers will make many birdies in their golfing ‘careers’ and most will occasionally experience the joy of an eagle, the vast majority will go their entire golfing lives without coming close to an albatross.

Abraham Ancer celebrates an albatross

Mexico's Abraham Ancer holed his second shot on the 14th in round two of 2021's CJ CUP in Las Vegas

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This is in large part due to the average distances that club golfers hit the ball, with only a relatively small percentage of better players and longer hitters able to regularly reach par-5 greens in two blows or drive the green on shorter par 4s, either of which you need to be able to do to have any chance of making an albatross.

Bubba Watson congratulates Louis Oosthuizen

Eventual winner Bubba Watson congratulates Louis Oosthuizen on his albatross in the final round of the 2012 Masters

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Indeed, it has been estimated that the chances of making an albatross in golf are at least a million to one, but on the professional tours where most par 5s are in range in two and many short par 4s are drivable, they do come along in very small numbers every season. One of the most memorable in recent years was when Louis Oosthuizen holed his 4-iron second shot on the par-5 2nd at Augusta National in the final round of the 2012 Masters to take the lead in dramatic fashion, with the ball catching the contours, feeding round to the right and rolling in like a well-judged putt. Undoubtedly one of the ten greatest Masters shots.

Jeremy Ellwood has worked in the golf industry since 1993 and for Golf Monthly since 2002 when he started out as equipment editor. He is now a freelance journalist writing mainly for Golf Monthly across the whole spectrum from courses and Rules to equipment and even instruction despite his own somewhat iffy swing (he knows how to do it, but just can't do it himself). He also edits The Golf Club Secretary Newsletter, has authored or co-authored three books and written for a number of national papers including The Telegraph and The Independent. He is a senior panelist for Golf Monthly's Top 100 UK & Ireland Course Rankings and has played all of the Top 100 plus 89 of the Next 100. He has played well over 900 courses worldwide in 35 countries, but put him on a links course anywhere and he will be blissfully content. On his first trip to Abu Dhabi a decade ago he foolishly asked Paul Casey what sort of a record he had around the course there. "Well, I've won it twice if that's what you mean!" came the reply...

Jezz can be contacted via Twitter - @JezzEllwoodGolf