The Etiquetteist: Are golfers obligated to tip the cart attendant? If so, how much?

row of golf carts

To tip, or not to tip? C'mon, do the right thing!

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Mike from Boston writes: The cart return area is always an awkward place for me, what with the employees there asking to clean my clubs when I don’t really want them to. Am I obligated to let them do their business? Or is it okay to politely blow them off?

Dear Mike,

Ah, the cart return, golf’s rough equivalent of a hotel lobby. The employees who staff it are akin to bellhops, friendly and eager, offering a baggage service that you may not want or need with the tacit understanding that you’ll tip them for it.

The Etiquetteist feels your pain. But the Etiquetteist also feels that this pain is a mild form of discomfort in the grand scheme of things, and so he urges you to dig deep (into your pockets) and suck it up.

At most courses, cart-return attendants earn a modest hourly wage. Gratuities are their lifeblood. You may find their work extraneous and the prospect of paying them irritating. But the services they provide comes with the territory at many courses. You know this when you book a tee time; the gratuity you fork over after 18 is implied in the cost of your round.

How to tip at a golf course.
The Etiquetteist: 7 things to know when tipping at the course
By: Josh Sens

What you should tip for club-cleaning is another matter. The Etiquetteist put this question to several golf-course operators and was told that $5 per bag is a good rule of thumb, though, in a pinch, a couple of bucks should suffice.

In an increasingly cash-free world, this can be a minor hassle, and the Etiquetteist sometimes wishes that courses would fold the cart-return tip into their greens fee, in the same way that some restaurants include the gratuity in the bill, eliminating the need for any post-round transactions. But because this is unlikely to happen anytime soon, do yourself a favor and stuff a few greenbacks in your wallet before you head to the tee.

Of course, none of this is obligatory. You could always, as you put it, simply “blow off” the tip-for-service ritual of the cart return. But is that worth the cost to your conscience? Coughing up a small gratuity is the right thing to do, and a small price to pay.

If you absolutely, positively can’t bring yourself to bear it, the Etiquetteist suggests that you consider walking instead. Or tennis.

Josh Sens Editor

A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.