Golf has some strange, idiosyncratic terms and rules. One of those oddities includes references to birds in the name of scores. Birdie, eagle…albatross?
In the natural world, the Albatross is capable of flying for years without ever touching land and are among the most endangered birds on Earth. Equally as rare are the albatrosses on the golf course.
So, what is an albatross in golf?
An albatross in golf is another name for a score on a hole equal to three strokes under par. There are only three instances in which an albatross can be scored: a score of 1 on a par 4, a 2 on a par 5, or a 3 on a par 6 (a par rarely seen in golf). In golf, albatrosses are exceedingly rare.
Rare in the natural world, albatrosses are equally rare on the golf course. Scoring an albatross requires not only skill but some measure of luck as well. If you’ve ever seen someone score an albatross on a golf course, chances are you won’t forget it and it will probably be a story you tell for years to come.
Albatross vs Double Eagle
Albatross is not the only name for a score of three under par on a hole. An albatross is also known as a double eagle. Some people may argue that albatross is a better name to describe the rare feat in golf but the more popular term used within the golf industry is a double eagle.
How Rare Is an Albatross in Golf?
In a previous article, we discussed the probability of making an ace for an amateur golfer at 12,500 to 1 and a professional golfer at 2,500 to 1. The odds for an albatross are astronomically larger at approximately 1,000,000 to 1.
Golfers have better odds of being struck by lightning (1 in 555,000) than recording an albatross on their scorecard. Additionally, only 10% of golfers can hit the green in two shots on a par 5 meaning 90% of golfers won’t have the opportunity to ever make one.
How to Get an Albatross in Golf
Many factors affect a golfer’s ability to hole a ball from a very long distance away. Here are some of those factors that increase one’s chance to make an albatross:
- Mother Nature – This encompasses several factors:
- Wind – hitting a ball downwind will help the ball both fly and roll farther.
- Ground firmness – playing in firm desert-like conditions will add bounce and roll to the ball.
- Trees – favorable bounces of these monarchs of the forest are gladly welcomed but results are random and not always good.
- Man-Made Obstacles – Cart paths, man-made or natural, will gladly give balls extra boost at the expense of a little scuff mark.
- Hole Elevation Change – Courses built among foothills or in the mountains can feature drastic elevation changes. Downhill shots decrease the distance to the hole and cause the ball to bounce and roll farther.
- Elevation Above Sea Level – Higher elevation will cause the ball to travel further because the air is less dense. Expect at least 6% more yardage when playing golf at 5,000 ft.
- The Direction of the Shot – The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Strategy sometimes calls for cutting corners and that includes doglegs (bends left or right on a golf hole that forces a golfer to navigate the hole by hitting consecutive shots that create a 45-90 degree angle). Many professional golfers will take angles that go through and sometimes over trees, lakes, valleys, and hills effectively decreasing the length of the hole. An example could be playing a 350-yd dogleg as the hole was designed versus aiming straight for the hole and only needing to hit the ball a total of 300 yds to get to the hole.
- Ability to Hit the Ball Far – To make a ball in the hole from a long way away, you need some or all of the above-listed factors. But more than anything, you need to be able to hit the ball far on a consistent and regular basis. This takes practice and lots of mental and physical strength to not only repeat the same efficient swing each time but to generate enough clubhead speed to hit the ball the necessary distance.
Is It Worth Trying to Make an Albatross?
The point of golf is to get the ball into the hole in as few strokes as possible so the answer to this should be yes. But is it the smart answer? Maybe not.
Here is an example that reviews some of the strategic decisions that golfers must face every time they play a round of golf.
1st Hole at Albatross Golf Club – Par 5, 485 yds, downwind – 15mph at 3,000ft elevation.
- 1st Shot – Driver hit down the right side bouncing off the cart path and bouncing an extra 30 yds. The ball travels a total of 300 yds but ends up in very thick rough.
- 2nd Shot – 185 yds to the pin – The ball is sitting down in 3” rough and the golfer hits their 3 hybrid 200 yds at this elevation. A creek about 15 yds wide runs across the hole 40 yds short of the green.
Question: Is it smarter to try to hole out from here or consider another option?
If the creek wasn’t there, then chances are it is safe to go for it. You never know so why not try right? However, the creek brings in an interesting dilemma: do you go for it or do you lay up short of the water?
Here is a case for laying up:
The thickness of the rough will decrease clubhead speed when the ball is hit and may reduce the total distance by 15-20%, leaving not much margin for error to carry the water hazard.
Just because you are downwind doesn’t mean it is going to help. If the ball does not get above the wind, it will be pushed down limiting the distance it travels making it tougher to carry the water hazard.
Golf is about playing favorable percentages based on the dispersion patterns of your golf shot. Dispersion refers to the total area where errant shots may land, including bunkers, the putting green, water hazards, and heavy rough.
At 150 yds the dispersion pattern for the average golfer (someone whose 18-hole average score is about 90-100) could be as wide as 50-75 ft. The further back you go the larger the dispersion pattern gets. Conversely, the closer you are, the smaller the dispersion pattern gets.
For perspective, PGA TOUR professionals aim for the flag on just about every approach shot from 150 yds yet despite their skill and ability still miss their target (i.e. the flag) by almost 28 ft.
Taking these considerations into account, the golfer in the example may have a higher percentage of success by hitting their 2nd shot 100 yds into the fairway short of the creek then hitting their 3rd shot the final 85 yds to the hole rather than going for it and bringing the water hazard and the subsequent penalty strokes into play.
Is There Anything Better than an Albatross in Golf?
There is a score in golf even better and rarer than an albatross and it is also named after another endangered bird species. A condor is a score of 4 under par on a hole and there are only two instances in which this score can occur: a hole in one on a par 5 or a 2 on a par 6.
Amazingly, there are six recorded instances of a condor in golf history with the most recent occurring in 2020:
- Larry Bruce – 480-yard par 5, 5th hole at Hope Country Club in Hope, Arkansas in 1962.
- Dick Hogan – 456-yard par 5, 8th hole at Piedmont Crescent Golf Course in Burlington, North Carolina in 1973.
- Shaun Lynch – 496-yard par 5, 17th hole at Teign Valley Golf Club in Christow, England in 1995.
- Mike Crean – 517-yard par 5, 9th hole at Green Valley Ranch Golf Club in Denver, Colorado in 2002.
- Jack Bartlett – 513-yard par 5, 17th hole at Royal Wentworth Falls Country Club, New South Wales, Australia in 2007.
- Kevin Pon – 667-yard par 6, 18th hole at Lake Chabot Golf Course in Oakland, California in 2020.
Famous Albatross in Golf
Mention the word albatross near any golf enthusiast and chances are their memory drifts back to Gene Sarazen in the final round of the 1935 Masters tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia.
One does not need to have witnessed the feat to be the recipient of goosebumps at the mention of this shot.
At the 485-yard par 5, 15th hole, Sarazen hit what was later dubbed the “shot heard around the world.”
Standing 235 yds away from the hole and trailing the tournament leader by 3 strokes, Gene Sarazen hit a smooth 4-wood that found its way onto the putting green and into the hole for a 3-under par albatross.
With one stroke Sarazen tied the leader and went on to win his first Masters championship in a 36-hole playoff.
Additional Golf Scoring Terms
Now that you know what an albatross in golf is, let’s review some other golf scoring terms. Here they are listed from lowest under par to highest above par:
- Condor – A score of 4-under par, occurring as an ace or hole in one on a par 5 or a score of 2 on a par 6.
- Albatross or Double Eagle – A score of 3-under par, occurring as a hole in one on a par 4, a 2 on a par 5, or a 3 on a par 6.
- Eagle – A score of 2-under par, an example is a score of 3 on a par 5 or also known as a hole in one on a par 3.
- Birdie – A score of 1-under par, such as a score of 3 on a par 4.
- Par – A par is a score equal to the number of strokes designated on the hole, i.e. a score of 3 on par 3.
- Bogey – A score of 1-over par.
- Double Bogey – A score of 2-over par or a 7 on a par 5, for instance.
- Triple, Quadruple, or Quintuple Bogey – As the names imply, these are scores of 3, 4, and 5-over par respectively.
Here is a chart that visually correlates scores with their names for each type of hole par.