Why the 'Ace' Is One of Golf's Most Exciting Achievements

Rickie Fowler celebrates with spectators after his ace won a million dollars for the Els for Autism Foundation
This how good you feel when you make an ace. (That's Rickie Fowler being hoisted in the air after he aced to win a million-dollar prize for the Els for Autism Foundation.). David Cannon/Getty Images

An ace in golf is a score of "1" on any given hole. In other words, "ace" is another term for a hole-in-one - the golfer knocks the ball into the hole on his or her first swing.

Aces are most commonly made on par-3s holes, because those are the shortest holes on a golf course and the holes on which all golfers have their best opportunities to hit the green with their first stroke.

But aces do sometimes (rarely) occur on short par-4 holes being played by long hitters.

And there have even been a handful of aces recorded on par-5 holes.

The chances of a golfer making an ace increase the better his or her skill level; after all, the first requirement in scoring an ace is to get the ball onto the green. But any golfer of any skill level is capable of making an ace - we all hit lucky shots from time to time (but most of us, alas, never do make an ace).

How Rare Are Aces?

Most recreational golfers never make an ace, most professional golfers make multiple aces. This is for the obvious reasons: Pros are much, much better than the rest of us, so are much more likely to a) hit the green and b) do so in closer proximity to the hole. But also because pros play a lot more golf than the rest of us, and so have more opportunities.

For an average golfer playing an average par-3 hole, the odds of making an ace are calculated at 12,500 to 1.

    Aces are not the rarest achievement in golf, however. Double eagles (aka, albatrosses) are much rarer.

    The Etymology of 'Ace'

    How did "ace" become a golf word? The word's origins lay in its use in games: The ace in a deck of cards represents "1" and is the highest-ranking card; the side of a die with one dot on it is an ace; a domino with one dot is an ace.

    From there, the word spread out to represent the best or highest-ranked in a given field (ace fighter pilot, ace pitcher, etc.).

    So it's easy to see how the word came to be applied to a hole-in-one: It had meanings related both to the numeral "1" and to being the best.

    When ace became a golf synonym for hole-in-one is hard to pin down, but it appears to have come into use in that fashion in the early 1920s.

    Buying Drinks After an Ace

    Many golfers observe the tradition that one who makes as ace has to buy drinks after the round for his playing companions and anyone else who witnessed the ace. (Some clubs even say the acer owes drinks to everyone at the club!)

    Doesn't it seem like the one who made is the ace is the one who should be getting the free drink(s)? Hey, nobody ever claimed golf traditions make sense.