The only thing better than getting an invite to a once-in-a-lifetime type of course is getting a repeat invitation. There’s a sneaky recipe to doing just that: If you follow the below list, no matter how you play, you’ll give yourself a good chance at getting a return visit.
This author has had a chance to play some great courses around the country, and though my golf game leaves a lot to be desired, my etiquette as a guest is at a scratch level—which often leads to an invite back. Here are some great ways to lock up another visit to that bucket-list course.
Don’t abuse your privileges
This is summed up perfectly by a quote from a gentleman we wrote about a few years ago who played as a guest at every top-100 course in the nation—despite only having a few connections when starting his journey: "Realize that every club is a refuge and to never disrupt that sanctity."
It's crucial to keep a light footprint as a guest. Anything that disrupts the normal flow of a day for a club worker will reflect poorly on you and your host. So don't tear up the short-game area for an hour before your host shows up, or order a drink inside the clubhouse or locker room without asking. These are ways to wear out your welcome.
Tip everybody you can at the club
No need to go overboard. But don’t underestimate the power of a few bucks. Golf clubs are small operations. Word gets around when someone was overly generous. And the same applies when someone is stingy. Tipping in a generous manner will make a good impression, and if you get invited back, odds are some of the employees might remember you for your generosity.
Go out of your way to follow all the rules
It should go without saying, but this is really the most important part of being a guest at a private club. Always follow the basics: Take your hat off indoors. Don’t change your shoes in the parking lot. If you have a question ahead of your visit about the dos and don'ts, ask your host.
Offer to reciprocate in some way
Hosts are paying your guest fees, so the least you can do is find a way to repay if possible. If you’re also a member at a club, always insist you’d like to host at your club in the future. A great touch is bringing a small gift for your host: A box of his or her favorite golf balls is a gesture that every golfer will appreciate.
If taking caddies, try to cover the caddie tip for your host
Most things will be covered for your round as a guest … your greens fee, lunch/dinner, etc. One way to pay your host back is to pay for his or her caddie. Before you’re finished with the round (ideally one of the last few holes), tell your host that you intend to pay for their caddie. Sometimes, a club automatically charges caddie fees to the host's club account, but at minimum, you’ve earned maximum points by offering to pay.
Keep the vibes strong
It’s easy as a competitive golfer to be so absorbed with your game. If you’re too engrossed with your own game, and you’re upset you’re not playing well, you might make it uncomfortable for your group. As a guest, your focus should be staying out of the way of your host and their other guests.
Pick it up if you’re out of a hole
Pace of play is important at any club, so if you’re struggling on a hole and holding things up, you risk making a bad impression. Keep it moving, and you’ll make fast friends.
Don’t push your luck
If there’s a halfway house and your host asks if you’d like anything, keep it light. If they’re getting an adult drink and ask if you want one, that’s fine. But don’t go overboard. You shouldn’t be double-fisting down the 10th fairway … nobody likes a grubby guest.
Avoid using your phone
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Unavoidable work or family obligations are one thing. But spending too much time posting photos to social media or scrolling through your phone gives your host the impression that you’re using them for access. Instead, spend time to get to know your host.
Make a personal connection
No need to go overboard but find conversation points with your host. Ask if your host has kids … everyone loves talking about their kids. Show genuine interest about the golf course. And we’d suggest not criticizing the course, otherwise there’s a good chance you won’t be invited back.
The handwritten thank-you note is undefeated
At the very least, an email or text message to your host is a must. If you really want to make an impression, though, find out their mailing address and send a handwritten note to thank them. We strongly encourage our Golf Digest course panelists to do this after each of their evaluation visits.
Call it old school, but it’s the kind of personal touch that’s rare these days. That’s why it’ll really make an impression.