What is an "Eagle" in Golf? Scoring Terms Explained

What is an Eagle in Golf?

In golf, an “Eagle” means scoring two strokes under par on a particular hole. Examples of golf eagles include:

  • 3 strokes on a par 5 hole
  • 2 strokes on a par 4 hole
  • 1 stroke on a par 3 hole (this would instead usually be referred to as a “hole-in-one” or “ace”)

While extremely rare in general, eagles most often occur on par 5 holes.

Why is it Called an "Eagles"?

Before a golf eagle got its name, the term "birdie" was already being used. A birdie occurs when a player scores 1 stroke less than par on a given hole.

So what should a more impressive feat than a birdie (2 under par) be called? Why not call it an "eagle," meaning a "big birdie" or an even more significant accomplishment.

Completing a hole 3 strokes under par is also named after a bird. This achievement is called an "albatross" or a "double eagle" .

Par 5 Holes Provide the Best Eagle Opportunities

Most eagles take place on par 5 holes. Golfers who have the distance to reach par 5 greens in only 2 strokes have a significant advantage over shorting hitting golfers to make eagles.

Eagles Are Very Rare, Even For Professional Golfers

In 2019, Sungjae Im had the most eagles among qualifying golfers in the TOUR Championship. He made 18 eagles over 2,124 holes (0.85% of holes).

While Sungjae Im had the most eagles in 2019, Martin Laird made the most eagles  per holes played. Laird made 17 eagles in 1,440 holes (1.18% of holes).

Eagles Are Far Rarer For The Average Golfer Than Professionals

MyGolfSpy and  TheGrint (a golf GPS and Handicapping App) teamed up to find how common birdies or better, pars, and bogey or worse holes are for golfers at various handicaps. While they didn't share data specifically for eagles, they did show how many birdies or better golfers of various handicaps scored.

Birdies, Pars, Bogeys Per Handicap (Source MyGolfSpy)

Considering the average golfer has a handicap between 16 to 20, this study tells us the average golfer will only score 0.3 birdies per round on average.

Based on this data and my personal experience playing with golfers at various skill levels, I think it's safe to guess that the average golfer is less likely to get an eagle in a given year than they are to get one. In fact, many golfers who lack distance have the best chance of scoring an eagle by getting a hole-in-one.

With that said, hitting the ball far and playing from closer tees gives you a lot more legitimate chances at eagles. A 12-handicap friend of mine consistently drives 300 yards. Compared to many golfers at his skill level, he has a better ability to reach the green on par 5s in 2 strokes, leaving him more chances for eagle putt opportunities. If he were to play from the white tees, he'd probably have at least one eagle putt opportunity per round.

Check out more golf scoring terms here.