I recall my six years working in the service industry very fondly. I valeted, waited tables and worked in the golf course cart barn at a private club.
The hours could be strange and some shifts found us in the weeds, but I never took work home with me, it was a very social job, there were no dull meetings and I got a lot of exercise.
I'd also usually end the shift with a pocket full of cash.
No country tips quite like the United States. Americans are a generous and charitable bunch and that certainly goes for how many of us treat our service workers. But let's be real - tipping can also feel burdensome and even awkward. Most of us carry cash less often than we used to and ATM fees keep going up. Historians point to the proliferation of tipping in America during reconstruction in the late 1800s when ex-slaves took waiter jobs in city restaurants and porter positions on trains and their employers paid them very little. So the patrons' tips helped them make something closer to a livable wage. This model proliferated further during prohibition and the Great Depression and server minimum wages lower than other jobs was codified into law by FDR in 1938. (Here is a great NPR podcast that goes into the history of tipping.)
Fast forward to today and tipping is commonplace. We tip valet, cleaners, barbers, not to mention many - but not all - people we run into at the golf course. There are some private clubs that have a no-tipping policy besides caddies and their food & beverage staff (and an 18% +/- service charge is automatically added). Resorts with a membership might also automatically add 18% to any food & beverage charge; check your bill before paying.
In 2021, the service industry is in a tricky moment. Labor, and specifically service industry labor - deemed "essential" during the 2020 lockdowns - is in short supply. Small businesses (many golf courses among them) are struggling to fill service positions. Then there is also the current state of inflation which has caused prices to go up in many areas, including food, beverage and service. There are also campaigns in many cities and states to raise the minimum wage and also include waitstaff, who, based on federal law, typically only make $2.15 an hour.
So with all this going on, it seems like a good time to update our recommendations for who to tip at the golf course, and how much. The recommendations below are merely a baseline. Sometimes I tip more than recommended because of exceptional service, or maybe I was in a great mood. I have certainly tipped a little extra since the pandemic began and it sounds like I'm not alone.
It's worth noting that the vast majority of service industry workers are going to give you good service regardless of what you tip them, as long as you give them something and treat them kindly. There's a fair chance the golf course, hotel or restaurant is short-staffed and the crew is hustling as best they can. I notice a lot of reviews on GolfPass that praise the staff, and nice comments about them is another way to show appreciation. We even do a yearly "Staff Friendliness" Golfers' Choice list to recognize these staff members.
What to tip Outside Service Staff (bag drop, golf carts)
Pay these days for an outside service position, based on job searches on Indeed.com, ranges from $8.50-$10/hr (although in California, state minimum wage is $13-14). These job postings suggest additional pay through tips and in my experience back in the 1990s I typically doubled my $6.50 hourly rate via tips. Since the pandemic, I've noticed more and more courses don't have their bag drop staffed due to a combination of reducing human contact and staffing. On a Kansas City golf trip this summer, when we returned our carts to one club, the attendant told us to clean out our own cart.
These days, if your clubs are cleaned after and your bag is handled before or after the round, $5 a bag seems to be a good start. A $20 tip from a foursome is great. (A lot of times, our Nassau game stakes will just determine who tips the bag drop guys). Some additional touch points by the staff may compel you tip more than that. They may shuttle you to meet up with your group, provide iced or wet towels or grab range balls for you.
I once had someone who worked at a posh resort course in Florida say that golfers should tip the bag drop $20 per person minimum. Minimum? That's a bit much. Though if you're being hosted by a member or someone at the club and your round is on the house, tipping the staff more than usual is a great way to show appreciation.
When should you tip the outside service staff? Generally speaking, you shouldn't feel compelled to tip until the end of the round, though some golfers certainly tip at the beginning once their bags are loaded. It's a tricky thing. The outside service staff will typically pool tips with their crew. So it's possible someone who helped you in the morning won't get your money if you finish after their shift. From my experience at the bag drop it all just evens out in the long run.
Lower-end or municipal facilities might have golf cart attendants but they don't really interact with you and you're allowed to take your cart to the parking lot to load and unload. In these cases tipping isn't expected. That said, if you get a clean cart stocked with divot mix and possibly even ice or towels, a couple bucks to the folks to the crew would certainly be appreciated.
" From the minute you drive up to the Scottish castle-inspired clubhouse to the warm greeting at bag drop, this is one of the best golf experiences I’ve ever had. The staff even greeted us by name without ever meeting us." - wpstewartjr0421."
What to tip the Beverage Cart Attendant
We receive a lot of reviews at GolfPass from golfers who mention how often (or not) the beverage cart came around. Suffice to say their services are expected at many public courses, especially in the summer. Base pay for the persons working the cart is usually around minimum wage or possibly higher. The easiest thing to do here is to tip the beverage cart attendant like you would a bartender. If they're mixing drinks or set you up with a nice bag of ice, add a few extra bucks.
Most higher-end courses these days give the attendant a portable point-of-sale machine that accepts credit cards with a tip line, but some courses are still old-school and either require cash or will have to take your card back to the clubhouse to run it.
A personal pet peeve: As you interact with the bev cart, Just be mindful of the group behind you. If they're waiting, try to pay with exact change and don't pay separately. If you order a lot of mixed drinks, give the attendant your order then keep on playing and they can meet you up at the green with your cocktails.
What should I tip a caddie?
Years ago we visited at a private club with an overnight lodge. Upon arrival, we were told we had caddies and we did what we thought was the right thing: we asked the head pro what the customary tip was here.
But apparently we were given faulty intel, because the next morning, the caddie master approached us and asked us if everything was okay with our caddies the day before. We said "yes" and he then asked why we tipped them so poorly. We were flabbergasted and had to quickly and quite embarrassingly correct the tip.
The lesson? Maybe you should ask both the shop and the caddie master for their tipping recs. Leaving the suggested tip is simply the minimum, like leaving less than 15% at a sit-down restaurant.
The minimum tip per person to a caddie should be around $50. And of course, offer to grab them a snack or drink at the turn. Keep in mind caddies are probably receiving less than half of the property's caddie fee (which is usually $60-80). They are usually independent contractors who must buy their own health insurance and don't get any paid time off. Don't have cash? Caddies are beginning to accept Venmo. But you'd better send the money on the spot and not once you've left.
It's been a busy summer for Destination Kohler caddie Mark Milatz (@CaddieTales), full of 36-hole days double-bagging for golfers seeking out a round at Whistling Straits before it hosts the 2021 Ryder Cup in September. Perhaps a result of pandemic gratitude, he notes golfers this year have been more generous than in past seasons.
Milatz doesn't let the occasional poor tip affect him because there's "always a very generous tip around the corner." But he did say that a number of golfers he sees rarely have a caddie and expect their scores to plummet by taking one. Instead of assessing a caddie's performance based on your scorecard, pay attention to the caddie's hustle when it comes to staying on top of tasks like cleaning your ball, raking traps, providing aiming lines, wind, strategy, even any color commentary or history about the course.
"A caddie won't help a 20-handicap break 80 on the Straits," said Milatz. "These are hard courses."
What should I tip a forecaddie?
Forecaddies are different from walking caddies. They will rake traps, provide guidance on tee boxes, read some putts and help spot balls. There is usually one per foursome so don't expect them to get you every yardage in the fairway or break of the green. You can tip less per golfer since there are four of you. A starter at a private club in the Midwest recently told us to tip $20 per person on top of the fee for the junior forecaddies. That felt low to me and we tipped above that. Other sources say $30+ per player is a better baseline.
Locker room attendant
The classier locker rooms in resort or private golf come staffed with an attendant. The great ones will greet you upon entry and make you feel at home. At a recent day spent at Oakland Hills, the attendant was sure to go out of my way to greet me, show me around and cleaned my spikes while I had a drink in the bar in my socks. It was a warm welcome at a place I was nervous might be stiff. I've tipped anywhere from $10-20 depending on how much time I spend in there and how many services they provide.
"Everyone of the staff is friendly and helpful from the bag people to the pro shop to the caddie we had (Ryan). The locker room attendant was great. He polished our golf shoes and replaced the spikes."
Some higher-end golf courses or private clubs have valet parking. Some even have mandatory valet. Valet parking is usually complimentary but in some cases there is a fee. The fee never goes to the valet (who usually makes close to minimum wage or is paid a flat fee by the shift) but to the company or property. You should only feel compelled to tip once after getting your car back. $5 a car to the valet should do the trick.
Do I tip a golf course starter or ranger?
Starters and rangers generally don't receive tips, unless perhaps they squeeze you into a jammed tee sheet or go above and beyond in other ways. Most of them are retired and have the job for free golf, socialization and finding balls in the weeds during their patrols. I've noticed some courses don't even pay their rangers, relying on volunteers in search of playing privileges.
Do I tip a golf instructor?
So your golf instructor finally fixed your slice. Eureka! You still don't have to tip them. The lesson fee is plenty. Referrals are the best way to show appreciation. However, longtime students may get their instructors some sort of gift over the years or on a holiday.
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