Guest at a private golf club? Here’s what you should offer to pay for

hand holding bunch of money

Even if you're being hosted, you should still reach for your wallet.

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@GrumpyNBAWatcher asks: Members at a club near me expect guests to pick up caddie and cart fees for themselves and their hosts. I hear that many guests also pick up the entire cost of rounds and pay for everything at member-guest events. What’s the common practice?

Dear Grumpy:

In the Etiquetteist’s egalitarian utopia, there would be no such thing as a private golf club. Tee times at Cypress Point and Augusta National would be available online, putting players of all stripes on the same footing, and eliminating any awkward dynamics between “host” and “guest.”

Wouldn’t that be nice?

Meantime, in the real world, you pose a reasonable question.

As in so much of etiquette, the answer depends in part on the relationship between the parties. If host and guest are close friends, for instance, with a history of generous back and forth, the expectation is that no one is keeping score, and the likelihood is that the host will cover fees, with the implicit understanding that everything evens out in the long run. There might be a conversation about costs, but it would be brief. “You can pick up dinner sometime,” would be the gist. It’s called “friendship” for a reason.

When the host-guest relationship is different, other nuances come into play. Let’s say the parties aren’t friends but colleagues or loose acquaintances. As a guest in such situations, etiquette suggests that you find a quiet moment with your host and offer to cover all your fees. Take nothing for granted. It is possible that your offer will be accepted.

But the odds are better that your host will wave you off and tell you not to worry about the costs. Should that happen, your next polite move is to propose a compromise and offer to pick up the caddie fees for both of you. While this offer is more likely to be accepted, there is still a good chance that your host will stand firm and insist on covering everything. That’s your cue to let matters lie. No need to push the issue any further. 

Which doesn’t mean there’s nothing else that you can do.

If this is a member-guest event, with, say, side bets and closest-to-the-pin prizes, you could — and should — pick up any associated costs. Same if there are pay-to-play hole-in-one giveaways or other competitions that are sometimes part of private club events. As a guest, covering fees for those little extras is least you can do.

There are also ways to express your gratitude later. With a thank-you card, for instance and a nice bottle of wine or a box of golf balls. If you’re a member of a club yourself, a reciprocal invitation makes perfect sense (unless, of course, the two of you have come to a mutual understanding, after one round together, that you never want to play in each other’s company again). To quote Hannibal Lecter, quid pro quo.

The best way to play golf, of course, is with people whose company you enjoy, and without strings attached. More often than not, that’s how things work out. Most members of clubs who are generous enough to have you as a guest aren’t operating with a hidden agenda. Their expectation is that you dress appropriately, behave like an adult and enjoy yourself.
Now there’s an ideal well within reach.

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