When Pterodactyls Roamed the Golf Course

What do golfers call a score of 3-under par on a single hole (scoring 2 on a par-5, for example)? We call that either a double eagle (in the United States) or an albatross (most other places). But that wasn't always true. In fact, there was a time in golf when such a score was so rare there was no generally accepted, broadly used term for it.

But one word that was used for that score was "pterodactyl." A pamphlet published in 1922 in the United States included definitions of scoring terms, including the common-by-that-time birdie and eagle. And it also included pterodactyl, which it defined as "a hole made in three strokes under par. This would be where a second shot with a brassie was holed out on a par 5 hole. It is rare enough to warrant the name."

How common was pterodactyl as a golf term? Not very, it appears. A quick check of our usual sources for historical golf research did not turn up a single other use of it. Which doesn't mean that golfers out on the courses weren't using it, sometimes, somewhere. But it certainly wasn't a golf term that was turning up in print.

The terms we use today for 3-under-par on a hole are albatross and double eagle. Albatross came along very soon after that 1922 pamphlet that included pterodactyl. According to ScottishGolfHistory.org, "albatross" first appeared in print in its golf sense in 1929. And "double eagle" wasn't widely used until 1935, when it appeared in newspaper accounts of Gene Sarazen's "shot heard around the world" in the 1935 Masters.

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