By EDDIE HUFFMAN
Shady characters sell them online or out of car trunks, promising a lot more than they actually deliver. They’re illicit substitutes for the real thing.
“I’ve heard several cases even this year from people that bought irons,” said Jerry Woodall, owner of Tee to Green Golf Shop in Eden. “Guys will be in a parking lot, and say, ‘I just bought this set of Titleist irons. I paid $800 for ‘em – I really don’t like ‘em. I’ll take $350 for ‘em right now.’ And somebody buys them, and then this guy’s gone. That happened at Oak Hills (Golf and Event Center) not long ago, which is two blocks from my store.”
The import of counterfeit clubs and other golf equipment, generally from China, has become a big business. U.S. Customs and Border Protection says it has seized more than half a million dollars worth of illegal equipment so far this year – and that’s not counting all the stuff they didn’t catch.
That leaves golfers – such as the one Woodall heard about at Oak Hills who got the great deal on irons – getting the shaft.
“He can’t hit them, and he’s hooking the ball and he’s wondering why, and then finds out they’re counterfeit,” Woodall said. “Now they’re not worth anything, and he’s out – I think, in this case – four or five hundred dollars.”
Those hundreds have added up to six figures or more in recent years, according to Customs numbers.
“Seizures of counterfeit golf goods have increased by 33 percent from fiscal years 2009 to 2010 and 37 percent in 2009 compared to 2008,” according to a news release from Customs. “…Through May of fiscal year 2011, (Customs and Border Protection) has made 265 counterfeit golf seizures with a total domestic value of $192,000, and an estimated manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $589,000.”
Gary Fennie, owner of Golf USA in Greensboro, discovered a fake driver recently when the owner brought it in for repairs.
“We actually had an R11 in yesterday or the day before that was counterfeit,” he said. “It broke. He bought it online for $250. The hosel broke. He said, ‘I need to send this back to TaylorMade’ – TaylorMade always tells people to go to their local dealer instead of the person they actually bought it from. We basically noticed right off the bat that it was fake.”
People buying clubs online or in a parking lot are at a disadvantage. A shop owner can line up a club with others to help determine whether it’s genuine.
“Some of them are pretty close,” Fennie said. “This one actually wasn’t that close. The graphics were way out of line on the shaft. The head looked pretty good, but the graphics on the shaft were way out of line. If you don’t put it up against something, it’s really hard to tell. We actually repaired it for him. He had to pay for it, of course.”
Randy McGinnis, owner of Randy’s Golf Center in Graham, has made similar discoveries at his shop.
“If a counterfeit comes in here, you can take it and compare it to a normal club, and you can see all kinds of flaws and differences in it,” he said. “One of the huge differences is just the shaft itself.”
The differences go well below the surface.
“When people buy a counterfeit club, they are assuming that it’s pretty close – even if it is a counterfeit – to the original product,” Woodall said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s not worth a plug nickel, number one, because of the materials and the craftsmanship. Legitimate companies are spending millions of dollars a year in research and development. A counterfeit club is just something that looks like it – it doesn’t perform at all. Most of them will break or crack, because they’re made out of tungsten or inferior metals, rather than a titanium, say, for example, with a driver.”
Customs offers a checklist of steps golfers can take to avoid getting scammed:
• Purchase from a reputable dealer.
• Contact brand owner for list of authorized dealers.
• Be skeptical of “too good to be true” deals.
• Be aware of return policy if not satisfied with product.
• Be aware of money-back policies.
• Research legitimacy of foreign websites.
• Request references.
• If purchasing from an overseas retailer, know import requirements or contact a local (Customs and Border Protection) office.