PGA Championship

Valhalla Golf Club

Money: Tipping, gambling, and buying stuff at the course

By Ryan Herrington Illustrations by Peter Arkle
December 13, 2016

The mental checklist golfers roll through before heading to the course for a round typically includes an assortment of “Do I” questions:

Do I have the right clothes?

Do I have time to hit some balls on the range?

Do I have enough money?

That last one might be the biggest “Do I” of them all. Even if you’re a guest for the day at a golf course, making sure you come prepared with the proper amount of cash is critical to avoiding those awkward moments when you might be left looking like Mr. Cheapskate because you forgot to stop at the ATM ahead of time.

Beyond greens fees, there are a few customary reasons you’ll need to make sure your wallet isn’t empty—for tips for the folks working at the course; for merchandise/souvenirs; and for any wagers you might be making with your buddies during the round.

The question then is obvious: How much is “enough” money? Let’s answer this strategically.

What do I need to know about tipping?

Tipping policies at courses often vary—there are some places that actually forbid it—so the best thing to do is be proactive. If it’s a place you’ve never been before and aren’t familiar with, take the time to call the course in advance and ask what’s the tipping policy. (Or if you’re a guest at a private club, ask the member hosting you for advice.) This will save you the anxiety of having to figure things out on the fly—often with the person waiting to be paid hovering over you like a delinquent mob boss.

So I’m playing at a place that allows tipping. Who do I have to tip?
The rule of thumb is anyone who provides a true service or assistance deserves a little something for the effort. That typically includes: valet/bag drop, locker-room attendant, caddie, forecaddie, cart/club cleaner and beverage-cart driver.

Wow, isn’t that going to add up?
Not necessarily. Most tips are relatively modest. Surveying several courses, we found these ballpark figures for most club staff:
Valet/bag drop: $2-$5
Locker-room attendant (if you use a locker or get your shoes shined): $5-$10
Cart/club cleaner: $2-$5 per golfer
Beverage cart: 15-20 percent of your purchase


I see you didn’t include caddies. What about them?
Caddies are different, and this is where doing some advance work is particularly helpful. At some places, you pay a caddie fee upon check in for your tee time, and then are responsible for a gratuity that’s paid directly to the caddie after the round—typically about 30-40 percent of the caddie fee (giving more or less depending on the level of service you felt you received). At other courses, you pay everything directly to the caddie. In these instances, the amount varies depending on the place you’re playing. For instance, $100 is standard at top private clubs in the Northeast. That’s also the suggested amount at Oregon’s Bandon Dunes Resort. But that’s the high end. At many places anything more than $30 is considered good. A decent sliding scale to work with would be about 40-50 percent of the green fee, again giving more or less depending on the service.

What about a forecaddie?
Given that forecaddies aren’t actually carrying your bags, the tip is going to be a little less. Around $25 to $30 is a standard amount, with a little more likely expected at top courses.

Are we forgetting anybody?
There are two more people at a course you might consider “thanking,” particularly if they helped you out in a specific way. That’s the starter and the caddiemaster. If the former squeezes your foursome into a crowded tee sheet, $20 is appropriate (think of it like a maitre d at a restaurant). Similarly, if the caddiemaster hooked you up with one of his top guys, $20 should be his reward.


If you’ve been invited to a private club or are going to a course for the first time, chances are you’re going to want to purchase something to remember the occasion. Logoed balls (roughly $8-$10), hats ($20-$30) or polo shirts ($60 and up) are the good go-tos, so come with enough to cover you.

Do I have to get something?
No, you don’t. However, if somebody has covered your green fee, the least you can do to repay the guy is purchase something in the golf shop. It usually helps the member as a goodwill gesture toward his club professional to have guests give the shop some business.

What if the shop doesn’t take money?
In some shops, there are no cash transactions. In these cases, the member’s account will likely be charged for the item(s). Be sure to pay back the member, even if he insists he’s got it covered. Stuff the money in his back pocket, under his hat or in his golf bag. Forget chivalry … tell him this is the least you can do.

What else should I pay for as a thank-you to the member?
Everything you possible can. Again, the guy has probably paid out a decent amount of money for you to play 18 holes. Wherever you can you should try to show your appreciation, whether bringing him a coffee before the round, buying him a drink during the round or handling the tab after the round.


Perhaps there’s no gambling at Bushwood, but there is usually a little that goes on at other courses. Again, depending on the occasion for your round of golf, be prepared with cash to cover something for nassaus, skins or, if you’re in a bigger event, a Calcutta. Do your due diligence to make sure you’ll be covered.

Do I have to bet?
You should never feel like you have to bet, particularly if the stakes are higher than you’re comfortable with. You’ve playing golf to have fun, not to stress about taking food off your family’s table because your snap hook was acting up. However, if you’re playing $5 nassaus or dropping $10-$20 into a pot for skins, you might want to consider it part of the sunk cost of playing the round (particularly if somebody else is picking up your green fee).

How much is too much to bet?
The answer, of course, depends on how much you’re willing to lose. The more important question, though, might not be how much you’re wagering but whether the bet is a fair one. Is the game you’re playing something you have an actual chance of winning or has the deck been stacked against you from the start? For high-handicappers, so long as there is a net component to the wager, where you’ll be able to get strokes to offset your skill level, than you can feel a little better that you might be able to win back your money. But if you’re paired with a couple sharks and the rules of the game don’t make it a fair fight, even a $2 nassau is too much.

But won’t it look like I’m a wimp for not betting?
Could you potentially alienate yourself, sure. But money is money. At the end of the day, you must weigh whether what other people think of you is a bigger deal than what your wife or significant other will think when you try to explain that you lost this month’s car payment when that four-footer on the 18th hole broke right even though you swore it was dead straight.

Are we forgetting anything that has to do with money?
Yes, one small thing: A hole-in-one. (OK, so that’s not a small thing in the life of a golfer but rather a big one.) If by chance you make one, the tradition is that you buy a round of drinks for the folks in the bar afterward. At some places, the member might have bought “insurance” that covers this. If not, so be it. Handle the bar bill (you can probably use a credit card for this), which really shouldn’t be too crazy unless you made your ace during the club’s member-guest tournament. And when you sign your receipt, be unbelievably gratefully that you made a hole-in-one, for goodness sakes!