The Definition of an Albatross in Golf

Anyone getting involved in the game of golf for the first time will understandably be baffled by some of the terminologies that is referred to on the golf course. Trying to comprehend why some of the rules that have evolved over the years are in place may lead a beginner to wonder what they are getting into. However, after a little research and mixing with fellow golfers, the terms and reasons will slot into place allowing you to get fully involved in this wonderful sport.

An Albatross is a very rare bird.

A golf course is made up of a variety of holes of varying lengths. A par three is generally a shorter hole and as the name suggests three strokes is the target for a scratch handicap player to complete it. Similarly, a par four or par five are longer holes with a target of four or five strokes. A player’s handicap is taken into account to balance out the abilities of playing partners.

Over the years a terminology has evolved and is now globally accepted describing the highs and lows of golf scoring. Should a player complete a hole in one stroke under par it is referred to as a ‘Birdie’, with a score of two under par being an ‘Eagle’. A very rare occurrence of three strokes under par is hailed as an Albatross or more so in American golf as a ‘Double Eagle’.

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There is a lot of conjecture as to why the names of our feathered friends are held in such high esteem. Understandably, a player is delighted with a one-shot under par Birdie, a larger more elusive bird like the Eagle is harder to achieve, and the very rarely seen Albatross which spends months in flight at sea is even rarer as is three shots under par.

How did the term Birdie originate?

It seems the honor of the birth of the term ‘Birdie’ for one under par on the golf course has been claimed by Atlantic City Golf Club in New Jersey USA. A match played in 1903 referred to by the USGA museum quotes a golfer by the name of Abner Smith hitting his ball to within six inches of the par three hole his group were playing. He is quoted as saying ‘That was a bird of a shot’ This seems to be a slang word at the time meaning a great shot, and the word Birdie is now widely accepted as one under par

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The Atlantic City Country Club commemorated this event with a plaque mounted on a granite boulder close to the twelfth hole where the historical event took place. The word Birdie quickly became the norm between the members and gradually picked up between clubs during competition. It seems that the word Eagle for two under par was also claimed by Ab Smith but this could not be substantiated.

The first written record of an Albatross was from a newspaper in South Africa in 1931. The shot was a hole in one on a par four which was the eighteenth at the Durban Country Club and credited to a Mr. E Wooler. As anyone can imagine, an Albatross is a very rare occurrence, but this most memorable event happened at Augusta in the Masters in 1935 when Gene Sarazen managed to pull off the incredible shot that got him into a playoff which he won.

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by Mike West