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Feet Together, Wallet Open Wide

You have been invited to play golf at your friend’s private club.

Oh, no.

It’s a nice club, but it makes you uncomfortable. You’re a public-course golfer. At a private club, you never know whom to tip, or how much. There are confusing customs and protocols. It begins when you pull into the parking lot and those kids in the carts chase after your car. Sometimes, it’s just one kid who fetches the clubs out of the trunk, but he hands them to another kid two feet away. He’s the one who actually puts them on a cart. So do you tip both of them? And how much?

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Karen D'Silva | The Image Bank | Getty Images

The whole thing makes you uneasy and nervous, like the new kid at school who doesn’t know where the bathrooms are or where to sit in the cafeteria. So when the club comes into view, you try parking in a lower lot for employees, hoping the cart boys won’t see you.

But that works for only so long. There will be no escaping the caddie master, the starter, the locker room attendant, the beverage cart person, the caddie, then the cart boys again.

What to do? You love to play new places, even swanky ones, but the rules are different from those at your comfy muni.

The first thing you should do is relax. So many golfers and so many guests come through private clubs and exclusive resorts every day that there is nothing you can do, or not do, that will leave a lasting impression. Unless you deposit your cart in a pond so that it has to be towed out (I’ve seen that) or unless you nearly bean the club president’s wife with an errant shot as she sits on the club patio (I’ve done that), there isn’t much the staff hasn’t already seen.

So don’t fret. Smile and act as if you’re happy to be there, which you should be. That’s step one. Next, realize that all tipping is subjective and personal. There are no hard-and-fast rules, and it’s based on the quality of the service.

But I know what you’re thinking: you don’t want to be a poor guest because it might reflect on your friend the club member. So here’s what you do, based on conversations with employees in each job.

• Don’t run from the cart boys or girls. They are just trying to help. Give them $2 or $3 per bag. You’ll be off to a good start.

• If you feel comfortable doing so, call your friend before the outing and ask about the tipping policies at the club. You never know, there could be a no-tipping policy. Your host can eliminate a lot of indecision and fill you in on any other rules, like a prohibition against shorts or against wearing hats in the grill room.

• O.K., but what if you haven’t had the chance to talk to your host? When you get to the locker room, greet the locker room attendant and be upfront about any questions you have. Don’t just wander around clueless. Ask for help.

“That’s really when we’re at our best,” said John Wesolowski, the locker room attendant for the last 24 years at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey. “If people ask, we go out of our way to help. It’s understandable that some people who play at public courses might not be used to our routines.

“But those routines are not anything secret. We can get you a locker, we can tell you where things are. We can show you where you need to go to hit balls and introduce you to everyone you need to know. That first person you meet at a club, and it’s usually either someone like me or the golf pro, can put your mind at ease and make your experience much more enjoyable.”

• If the locker room attendant cleans and shines your shoes for you, tip the attendant $5 to $10 per pair of shoes. A bigger tip might be appropriate if the attendant did anything else special for you — got you a bandage and ointment for a blister or a drink after your round.

• If there is a caddie master, you might want to inquire about the base caddie rates, or anything else that might be expected of you. Again, your host might have already taken care of that, but you could offer to pay for the caddies or at least their tips. If you want a seasoned, high-quality caddie, then sometimes, it is worth it to tip the caddie master about 20 percent of the base caddie rate for the extra consideration.

Along the same lines, if you are at a busy resort that has a starter and want a preferred tee time, or don’t have a tee time, a group of four golfers might want to tip the starter $50 or more should the starter perform some scheduling magic to get you on the golf course at the time you requested.

• While on the golf course, the beverage cart person should receive a tip not unlike the tip you would give a bartender. A soda and snacks cost $3? Hand over at least a buck. Bigger order? Bigger tip.

• Caddies often receive a tip equal to 50 percent of the base caddie rate, though tips range greatly from club to club and region to region. It can be as little as $10 in some quarters and $75 in others. It’s a good idea to ask your host or others you might be playing with. Don’t be embarrassed, just ask.

If you have a forecaddie who is assisting your cart-riding group but not carrying the clubs, figure a tip of about $20 per person.

• When you come off the course, there might be some more cart attendants offering to clean your golf clubs as they take them off the cart. Again, about $2 or $3 per bag. You might want to offer to take care of this tip for your host as well.

So there, what did that come to? Maybe about $50 to $60, or roughly the same cost as the weekend golf rate with a cart at your local public course. Depending on where you live, $50 or $60 might be more than you usually spend. But you received a lot of attention you wouldn’t normally get, especially from your caddie, who probably saved you 5 to 10 strokes at a golf course you were not familiar with.

And that’s the point. Enjoy the service and enjoy an atmosphere where everyone is simply trying to help you have a good day of golf. Enjoy the attention.

Because here’s my final tip: I bet you had fun.