Double Eagle vs. Albatross: Which Term Should Golfers Use?

What is the term golfers use for a score of 3-under par on a hole? That is albatross. No, wait, it's double eagle. No, it's albatross. It's double eagle — it's both. Both terms are used by golfers, and some golfers have strong opinions about which of the two terms is correct.

Double eagle and albatross mean exactly the same thing: a score of 3-under-par on a hole. If the hole is a par-5, and you play it in two strokes, that is a double eagle/albatross. If you're on a par-4 and make a hole-in-one, that's a double eagle/albatross.

Double eagle is the term that developed in the United States, albatross is the term that developed in the United Kingdom. Around the world, albatross is the more-used term, but given the American domination of world culture and the PGA Tour's domination of world golf, double eagle is catching up.

There are many, many words in our vocabularies that share meanings. Words that mean the same thing. But that also carry some nuance, some implication or suggestion, that makes one word preferable to another, of the same general meaning, depending on context. One might think of two words whose definitions are the same, but one of those connotes something the other doesn't.

Are double eagle and albatross like that? No. There are no hidden implications, no connotations. They have the exact same meaning. To us, that means they are both correct, they are both appropriate, and golfers should use whichever one (or both) they prefer, for whatever reason.

Isn't albatross the traditional term in a sport that loves tradition? The fact that albatross is the British term gives most people the impression that it is also the older term. "Older" usually appeals to traditionalists, and golf has a lot of traditionalists.

We think most golfers will be surprised to hear, though, that double eagle actually pre-dates albatross. Now, we can't say that with 100-percent certainty, but that is where the evidence strongly points.

According to the website ScottishGolfHistory.org, the earliest-discovered written use of albatross in its golf sense is from 1929. But we've found usages of the golf meaning of double eagle in American newspapers at least as early as 1920. (Read our article about the meaning and origins of double eagle for more about this.)

Both terms would have been in use before those dates, by small numbers of golfers, until the terms bubbled up to the notice of sportswriters. We can probably say that albatross was first used by golfers by the early 1920s, and that double eagle was first used by golfers in the 1910s.

But a double eagle isn't really double an eagle, right? Another objection to double eagle is that the term doesn't really make sense, since a score of 3-under is not really double the score of an eagle. An eagle is 2-under on a hole, a double eagle is 3-under on a hole. Shouldn't a double eagle be, literally, twice as far below par as an eagle? Shouldn't, therefore, a double eagle be four-under on a hole?

Maybe! But, in fact, that's not what a double eagle is. The definition of double eagle is 3-under on a hole. It does not matter that the meaning of the word doesn't follow from its origins. There are hundreds, probably thousands, of words in English whose meaning is now divorced from their origins; hundreds, probably thousands, of words in English who definitions are different from the older words in Greek, Latin or other languages from which they derived. That doesn't make those words illegitimate, anymore than double eagle is illegitimate because of some legalistic argument over mathematical fealty.

Double eagle means 3-under on a golf hole, the exact same thing as albatross.

So which term is correct? Well, given that they mean exactly the same thing, both terms are correct. You might prefer one to the other, but it is not wrong to use either one of them. "Albatross" is not more correct than "double eagle." Both are correct.

It really just comes down to personal preference. Use the one you prefer, or, given their interchangeability, use them both.

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