Golf's Albatross: a definition, the origins and a history

What is an Albatross in Golf? 

Fundamentally, an albatross (or double eagle in America) is a score of three under par on a single golf hole. It is predominantly achieved by holing out with a long approach shot into a par five for a score of two. Likewise, a score of one on a driveable par four is, in our view, also an albatross although the more pedantic may refer to this as a ‘hole in one’ rather than an albatross!

The Origins of Golf’s Albatross 

The origins of the name actually stem from the coining of the term birdie. Although the specifics of the story differ slightly depending on the source, it’s always a variant of the following:

Towards the end of the 1890s, two brothers, Ab and William Smith were playing with George Crump (who later went on to build Pine Valley) at Atlantic City Country Club. As Ab struck a sweet approach shot on the par 4 second, he exclaimed “That was a bird of a shot!”. He holed the putt and the rest is history.

The eagle was coined shortly after and is believed to be linked to the enhanced status of the Eagle in America (their national symbol).

In the 1920s, after the advent of steel shafts, a score of 3 under par was deemed common enough to warrant its own term and so the albatross was born. A rare bird for a rare occurrence. In fact, the odds of scoring an albatross are estimated to be 6,000,000 to 1. Significantly more than a hole in one which is a likely 12,500 to 1!

Just in case you were wondering, the outstandingly rare 4 under par score, for which only a few have ever been recorded, is called a condor.

Albatross’ in the Majors 

The first albatross ever recorded in a major championship was at the 1870 Open Championship. The iconic Tom Morris Jnr was playing the first hole, of his first round at Prestwick, when he recorded a three on what was then a par six. 59 years before a three under par was even called an albatross, and a further 65 years before another albatross was achieved at a major championship (Gene Sarazen at the 1935 Masters).

Incidentally, it was also Tom Morris Jnr, who also recorded the first ever hole in one at a major, just one year prior at the 1869 Open Championship.

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