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Counterfeits, Clones, Copies and Caffeine

With all but a few of the major equipment manufacturers now subcontracting club production to China, golf club counterfeiting has become easier and more prevalent than ever before. With (sometimes) comparable performance and often at less than half the price, should you consider buying counterfeit clubs?

In terms of looks, some clubs are identical and only the most well informed golfer could tell the difference. Theft of clubhead moulds from Chinas Pearl River Delta region factories, where some of the biggest names in golf make their clubs, means counterfeit clubs can have striking resemblances to the Real McCoy. In terms of performance, that tends to depend on the type of copy and the level of golfer. Professionals and better players can almost certainly tell a noticeable difference, but for the novice or weekend hacker it could be difficult for them to separate some models. Of course, there are literally thousands of models on the street these days and varying degrees of counterfeiting ranging from exact replicas to your almost comical knock-offs sporting names like Tommy Mann Bummer and Trident Big and Long (For the man who doesnt quite measure up on driving distance of course).

Whatever the type of copy, theyre like most other counterfeit products, you get varying degrees of quality, and just like your 500 baht Bangkok Rolex, if you inspect it up close and subject it to some not-so rigorous testing, youll most probably quickly find out it comes up short in most any performance attribute. It is also true, some copies, clones or whatever you want to call them, are very similar and provide comparable performance to the real thing. Even at the knock-off factories, the clubhead construction process is quite impressive, with some 200 steps involved from tooling to shipping the clubhead. However, a good player (and arent we all) will notice differences in swing weight, shot trajectory and other aspects that we like to think were experts in.

I dont often buy fake products. Perhaps Im a bit of a golf snob, but its not just because my Saturday foursome would laugh me off the first tee if I put a club named Tommy Mann Bummer in my bag. Equipment companies spend millions of dollars on research and development, and nowadays, theyre spending an increasing amount of time and money trying to protect their intellectual property rights, patents and trademarks. I might be wrong, but Id bet Tiger and Phil dont pay for that. Those costs get passed on to the consumer, and if you buy counterfeit clubs then you probably dont give a damn, but at least consider this: Theres a poor guy whos caffeined himself out every day and night for the past year trying to come up with the perfect golf club. He finally hits the jackpot, only to find that within weeks, his year of work is being copied all over the world from Guangzhou to Kazan. If I were being really pedantic and forthright, Id tell you youre supporting theft and crime by buying counterfeit clubs, and yes, everybody does it, but didnt your mother tell you sometimes the sheep can steer you in the wrong direction? For me personally, buying counterfeit clubs is like taking bogey and writing down a Par quite acceptable if youre just playing casually, but not really done if youre taking this game seriously and want to call yourself a real golfer.

Since Im not pedantic and forthright, Ive just put a new no-brand name club in my bag - the first new club my bag has seen in four years. Its not a copy or a clone, but its made in China, probably in the same factory as the latest Callaway, and Ive added about 20 yards to my driving distance. These types of clubs are becoming increasingly common, especially in Asia where theyre cheaper than most of the name brand clubs, yet provide very similar quality and performance. Im big on name brands, but this club made by True Golf Enterprises, was so good I signed a deal with them to lead my companies golf product development initiative. But enough of the self-promotion and time for a short story.

When I first started playing the game seriously, I was an equipment manufacturers dream customer; Nick Price won the 92 PGA Championship so I raced out and bought myself a Zebra Putter hoping to find the same magic on the greens that helped him win; when Greg Norman won the 94 Players Championship with a record 24-under Par I tore down to the nearest golf shop to buy a King Cobra Driver convinced Id be hitting it 300 yards just as straight as Greg did; and of course, when Faldo won the 96 Masters I had to get a set of Mizuno irons, now with somewhat fading hope that Id knock down the pins as Nick did. Much to my dismay, my drives surprisingly still found the water, my irons shockingly still missed greens, and the Zebra putter still lipped out three footers. The moral of the story (apart from that golf makes you poor and Im stupid) is that for the majority of us, the clubs we use can certainly help us improve and get better, but at the end of the day, you can still make triple bogey with a USD$2,500 Honma driver. And whatever clubs you use are as much use as Stevie Wonders camera if you happen to whiff it.

Whatever clubs you purchase, your local Pro will give you some good advice, and if theyre really interested in selling you a club that will help you, theyll tell you to go hit it on the range. Hitting a driver into an indoor net isnt much use, except for frightening the hell out of elder customers. Its also kind of like test-driving a new car by driving it back and forth in the showroom It might make you feel good but the people in the shop really wish youd stop. Finally, if you happen to be a golfers spouse reading this and cant understand why we (golfers) spend a months salary on golf clubs without blinking an eyelid, dont try to understand it. Its kind of like women and why they must shop for shoes, even when the Masters is going to start in 15 minutes it cant be explained and all we know is theres no such thing as having too many.
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