What Is an Eagle In Golf? How Do You Make One?

Two golfers celebrating in silhouette
Oh, that feeling of making an eagle ... Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images

In golf, "eagle" is the term used when a golfer scores 2-under par on any individual hole.

Each hole on a golf course is designated as a par 3, par 4 or par 5 (and rarely par 6), with "par" representing the number of strokes that an expert golfer is expected to need to complete play of that hole. So a par-5 hole, for example, is expected to take a great golfer, on average, five strokes to finish. But if that golfer (or any golfer, good, bad or otherwise) instead needs only three strokes (two less than par), well, she just scored an eagle.

What kinds of golfers make an eagle? Good ones and lucky ones. Even the best golfers on the planet go eagle-less in most rounds. In the 2016 PGA Tour season, for example, three golfers led the tour in total eagles with 16 each, in around 90 rounds each.

The Scores Needed to Make An Eagle

So if an eagle is a score of 2-under on a hole, that means you make an eagle by:

  • Scoring a 1 on a par-3 hole
  • Scoring a 2 on a par-4 hole
  • Scoring a 3 on a par-5 hole
  • Scoring a 4 on a par-6 hole

Eagles are most commonly made on par-5s, holes on which some golfers who hit the ball far can reach the green in two strokes, then sink the first putt.

Eagles on par-4 holes are much rarer because they require either driving the green and 1-putting, or holing out an approach shot from the fairway.

Note that an eagle on a par-3 hole is a hole-in-one. And you can call a par-3 ace either an "eagle" or a "hole-in-one;" both terms are correct. But nobody calls it an eagle in that case. After all, why call that an eagle when you can say instead, "I just made a hole-in-one!"

Why Is It Called An 'Eagle'?

Now we know what an eagle is ... but why is it called "eagle"? Where does that specific term come from? "Eagle" is used because it followed "birdie" in the golf lexicon. Birdie, meaning 1-under par on a hole, came first. Once birdie was established, golfers simply stuck with the avian theme and added "eagle" for 2-under on a hole.

The bigger question is where that bird theme came from in the first place. Luckily, we have an FAQ that answers that question, too.

Other Forms of 'Eagle' Used By Golfers

Golfers also use the term "eagle" as part of a couple other related expressions. For example, an "eagle putt" is any putt that, if the golfer makes it, results in a score of eagle. So if you are on the green in two strokes on a par-5, your first putt attempt is an "eagle putt" because if you make it, you'll have an eagle.

And there's "double eagle"—also known as an "albatross"—meaning 3-under-par on a single hole. The hierarchy of avian terms for golf holes is this:

  • Birdie: 1-under on a hole
  • Eagle: 2-under on a hole
  • Double eagle (or albatross): 3-under on a hole

There's also the "condor," which is the term for 4-under on a hole—a hole-in-one on a par-5, in other words. Yes, you could also call that a "triple eagle," if you really wanted to. But the fact is, aces on par-5 holes are so rare (only a handful have been recorded in all of golf history) it's not something any of us need to worry about.