What Is An Eagle In Golf?

A definition of the golfing term eagle – what exactly is it and where does the turn of phrase come from?

what is an eagle in golf
Jon Rahm holes a putt for an eagle at the Ryder Cup
(Image credit: Getty Images)

An eagle is not the rarest of golfing birds but it’s certainly a very welcome sight on the golf course for any player. Here we consider what an eagle means in golf and where the turn of phrase originated.

What Does Eagle Mean In Golfing?

Jordan Spieth

Jordan Spieth celebrates an eagle on the 15th hole of the final round in The Open at Royal Birkdale in 2017

(Image credit: Getty Images)

An eagle is a golfing term for a score on a golf hole that is two under its given par (the score that a scratch golfer would be expected to record on that hole).

Most commonly, eagles are scored in golf on par-5s when a player is able to reach the green in two shots and putt out into the hole for a three. Sometimes an eagle may be scored by a player holing out a longer shot on a par-5 – a chip, pitch or full shot.

On a short par-4, a player may be able to drive the green in one shot and putt out for an eagle 2. Or, they may hole a longer shot for a two-under-par score on a par-4.

On a short hole, a par-3, recording an eagle will also secure a player one of golf’s great achievements – a hole-in-one.

Professional golfers will score eagles on par-5s reasonably regularly, but they can be pivotal in competitive play, particularly if scored towards the end of a tournament.

For the average player though, scoring an eagle is memorable golfing moment that won’t come around very often.

Where Does The Term Eagle Come From?

Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods chips in for eagle 1999

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The term “eagle” is an extension of the use of the word bird or "birdie" for a score of one-under-par on a golf hole. The use of the term birdie originated in the USA in the early 20th century at a time when the slang term “bird” was being used to describe something good.

Atlantic City Country Club in New Jersey lays claim to the first use of the term during a foursomes match and a plaque there dates that to 1903.

After that, the use of eagle was a natural progression to describe a hole completed in one better than a birdie.

At first, eagle was a term only used in the USA but both birdie and eagle began to be used in Britain to describe holes finished in one-under and two-under par by the early 1920s.

What’s Better Than An Eagle In Golf?

A double eagle is a score of three-under-par on a single hole in golf. It’s the rarest of all golfing birds, hence the reason it’s referred to in Britain as an “albatross”. A double eagle or albatross requires a player to either hole their second shot to a par-5 or to make a hole-in-one on a par-4.

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?