Explaining the Score Called a Condor in Golf

A juvenile condor receives flying lessons at the Sydney Zoo
Look at how big that condor is! And this one is only a juvenile. Ian Waldie/Getty Images

In golf, "condor" is the term for an exceedingly rare score on an individual hole: 4-under par.

Par is the rating of a hole that represents the average number of strokes an "expert golfer" is expected to need to complete that hole. All holes on a golf course should be rated for par. Holes are typically rated par-3 (an expert golfer should need, on average, three strokes to play that hole), par-4 and par-5. Par-6 holes also exist, but are scarce.

Key Takeaways: Condor

  • In golf, "condor" is the popular term for a score of 4-under par on an individual hole.
  • Among common golf holes, a condor is only possible on a par-5 hole.
  • Scoring a condor is so rare that only a handful are known in the history of golf.

The Scores Needed for a Condor

Since a condor is a score of 4-under-par on a golf hole, these are the scores required to claim a condor:

Given that there is only one commonly found golf hole (the par-5), plus another hole (par-6) that is rarely encountered, on which a condor is even possible, one can correctly guess that condors almost never happen.

How Rare are Condors?

Extremely rare. Exceedingly rare. Vanishingly rare. Scoring a condor almost never happens in golf. After all, the most likely way to do it is to ace a par-5 hole. And how many times does that happen? In fact, there are only a handful of par-5 holes-in-one known in golf history.

The rarity helps explain why such scores are called "condors." One of the most-famous success stories in attempts to save endangered species is the California condor. At one point, only 27 such birds were known to exist, and those were all in captivity. But a captive breeding program, started in 1987, allowed the birds to be reintroduced to the wild and today there are wild populations in Arizona, Utah and California.

There are other types of condors — all of which are large vultures — around the world, many of the others also endangered or threatened.

The 'Condor' Name Sticks to an Avian Theme

So "condor" is used for a score of 4-under par because of that score's — and that bird's — rarity. Also because condors are huge birds that are very majestic in flight (up close they are quite ugly, since, after all, they are vulturesl).

Condor is also in keeping with golf's already existing avian theme for some of our scoring terms:

  • A score of 1-under on a hole is called a birdie;
  • a score of 2-under on a hole is called an eagle;
  • a score of 3-under on a hole is called an albatross.

And 4-under is a condor. Note that in the United States, the albatross is more likely to be called a "double eagle." In theory, you could call a condor a triple eagle. But nobody (that we are aware of) does that.

This avian theme for certain golf scoring terms originated in the United States around the turn of the 20th century, and derives from a 19th-century slang term equivalent to "cool."