So you've finished your round, and there they are: Those poor cart boys or gals, lying in wait, ready to intercept you and your clubs before you can make it to the parking lot (if you're even allowed to drive your cart out there). They're armed with dirty, wet towels, anxious to wipe off your clubs and deliver them to the bag drop.
Your biggest concern: How much do I have to tip these guys?
At some private clubs, believe it or not, nothing (those clubs typically don't take cash anywhere). It's part of the service, and some have no-tipping policies. At most clubs -- and especially resorts and high-end daily fees -- you need to be ready with some small bills. But just how many small bills?
To be safe, $3 to $5 per bag should do the trick. Heck, even $5 per cart really isn't bad. If you do the math -- that's $10 per foursome -- and considering how many carts go out on the course, I'm sure the cart staff would be happy if they averaged that much per bag.
But they don't. Incredibly, they do get stiffed, and more often than you think. I asked a couple of cart boys how often this happens. Their answer: At least half the time. Often one player looks to the other to take care of it, and none of them do. Or worse yet, they just don't know or care.
But you might also want to pay attention to how much work they do in cleaning your clubs. If it's just a cursory wipe here and there, I might tip $2 or $3. If they really do clean your clubs, thoroughly, certainly a little more.
Here's some other golf-course tipping questions that are a little more complicated.
Do I tip at bag drop and at the end, or just once?
Often, the person who takes your clubs at bag drop also takes care of bags at the end of the round, so you're probably okay just tipping at the end. At some courses, tips are actually pooled, so taking care of them once is okay there, too. There are certainly exceptions, though.
If you're dropping off an entire group or two, you should probably take care of them in the beginning and at the end, especially if they're running your bags to the golf carts as well.
How much and how often should I tip the drink-cart girls?
Yes, notice I didn't say cart person here. It's rare that person running around the golf course isn't a woman, and often they're fairly attractive.
I'm sure I don't have to tell the readers here that's by design. No doubt, attractive cart girls -- working a golf course with mostly middle-aged men -- sell more drinks and beer than the ho-hum kind do. And guess what? They also do better in the tip department.
One particular "cart girl of the month" told me on more than one occasion she received tips approaching the C-note. What exactly those customers expect is still a mystery to me, but I have little doubt they wouldn't have been so generous with a 60-year-old man peddling snacks and drinks on the course.
So what’s appropriate? That all depends on what you’re ordering and how much work they have to do for you. If they’re mixing four Bloody Marys, for example, that’s a lot different than just grabbing a bottle of pop. Generally, you can figure it like you would if you were at a restaurant. Putting together a six-pack of beer for you in a cooler might cost you $25, so it wouldn’t be unreasonable to go 20 percent, which is $5. On the other hand, if you’re getting a soda and ask for a cup of ice to go with it, you should probably throw in an extra buck, or if it’s $2.25, at least give her $3 and let her keep the change. It’s really common sense.
How much should I tip a caddie?
This is a dilemma most golfers face when they take a caddie or forecaddie for the first time and, quite honestly, even the 20th time. I always ask the head pro or director of golf or maybe the caddie master what's customary at that club or facility, because they do tend to differ from place to place. At Kiawah Island, for example, caddies are "included" in the Ocean Course green fee, but they suggest a $100 tip on top of it.
Who you don't want to ask is one of the caddies. You put them in an uncomfortable position, and it's been my experience that their input tends to be on the higher side. (Can you blame them?) I am, however, related to a caddie, so it is interesting to hear what he considers average-to-good tipping. By and large, caddies are kind of like servers at restaurants. The caddie fee barely covers their expenses - they make their living on tips - so keep that in mind. If they work hard for me (even if some of the reads aren't correct), I'll throw in an extra $10 or $20 off whatever the pro recommends as customary.
So what is typically customary tip on top of the fee? For a forecaddie, about $20 to $25 per player. For a caddie toting just your bag -- around $40 to $50 -- a little less for a double bag because the other player should be tipping said caddie, too. But if you want to be safe, don't be afraid to ask the head pro or director of golf. You can ask the caddie master, too, but I prefer to ask a pro. They're a little more objective.
Some other tipping tips
At some courses, valeting your car is either complimentary or required or both. I think a couple of bucks here is plenty for retrieving your car, especially if you're forced to valet. Certainly, though, if you feel like giving them $5, that's not excessive, and at many facilities, those tips are supposed to be pooled.
Another tipping opportunity occurs in the locker room. I've heard stories of prominent tour pros who have no clue in this department, but if there's a locker room attendant, and he's really working for you, $5 would certainly be appropriate. The same goes for a shoe service. If they change your spikes, clean and polish your shoes, $5 should be the minimum; $10 is certainly not out of the question.