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Companies join forces to combat fake clubs

The story broke recently that the Chinese government raided five golf equipment counterfeiters in Jiangmen, Putian and Xiamen, China. In all 31,000 pieces of counterfeit clubs in various stages of production were seized. More importantly 84 sets of molds were confiscated. It was a million-dollar business that was quickly extinguished.

This was a little different than the old days when companies only had to worry about knockoffs that looked like the original, i.e. the Big Burser. Now the problem is much larger and much more serious. People at the foundries in China have been making wax impressions of the molds of the top clubs on the market and then manufacturing clubs that look exactly like the originals. The operative word is "look."

"When the consumer buys a counterfeit club, he's getting a vastly inferior club," explained Callaway Vice President of Communications Larry Dorman. "It's not even a functional copy. Take our VFT irons. They will make the mold and then make the head out of steel and not titanium and they put all the markings on it and it will look like the original to the non-expert."

The counterfeit clubs are then put on the market in China as "copies." Once they're dispersed from China, the consumer is offered a chance to buy what he/she thinks is a first-rate set of clubs at a ridiculously low price. A complete set that has an MSRP of around $3,000 is suddenly available for around $375. It sounds like a great deal, but it really isn't.

"There's absolutely no quality control on these counterfeits," said Dorman. "The materials are inferior. The workmanship is extremely poor. You could be hitting a 6-iron as far as you usually hit a 4- iron because in reality it has the same loft as a 4-iron. They have no standards. They have no overhead. They just crank them out and put them on sale."

It used to be a little more difficult for counterfeiters to reach the consumer, but now it's as easy as booting up your computer.

"The Internet has become a big cyber-fencing operation," said Dorman. "Fortunately, we've had a lot of cooperation from eBay, but you can't reach every site."

Counterfeiting isn't a new problem, but it certainly is a growing one. Two years ago at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, security people from Callaway along with state and federal agents successfully operated a sting that netted a woman known as Tiger Lily, who at the time was one of the biggest counterfeiters in the world. However, she wasn't the only one. Now there are more and the equipment companies are fighting back.

The Acushnet Company (Titleist), Callaway Golf, Cleveland, Nike, Ping and TaylorMade have combined security forces to deal with this problem.

"The companies take this very seriously," said Dorman. "When counterfeit clubs are on the market, so is your reputation. If a golfer has a bad set of counterfeits and they don't perform, he blames your company and won't come back. He'll tell others and you're losing a lot of money. No one can afford that."

Dorman has a simple clue to identify counterfeit clubs when they're offered to consumers.

"If it seems to be too good a deal to be true," he said, "it probably is and it most likely is a counterfeit set."

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