In this exclusive interview, GBN talks to Andrew Masterson of the US Golf Manufacturers Anti-Counterfeiting Working Group about the golf industry’s on-going battle with counterfeiters and manufacturers of fake golf equipment and gives advice on what retailers and consumers should do when they think they’ve come across a counterfeit operation
When was the US Golf Manufacturers Anti-Counterfeiting Working Group set up, who constitute its members, and what is its remit?
The US Golf Manufacturers Anti-Counterfeiting Working Group (The Golf Group) has been actively committed to stopping the production, sale and distribution of counterfeit equipment since 2004. The Golf Group consists of six of the largest golf manufacturers in the world: Acushnet, whose brands are Titleist, FootJoy, Vokey Design and Scotty Cameron; Callaway-Odyssey; Srixon, Cleveland Golf and XXIO; PING; PXG and TaylorMade Golf. These manufacturers came together to protect the integrity of the game and to protect the consumers that they have served for so many years.
What is the scale of the golf equipment counterfeiting business globally?
Just as the scale of golf has grown globally with the onset of the pandemic, so has the scale of golf counterfeiting. It is estimated that as many as two million counterfeit golf clubs are produced each year. And this is not including all the extra golf accessories (bags, balls, labels, gloves and apparel).
As more and more people embrace the use of e-commerce sites such as Facebook marketplace, Amazon, eBay and more, it has become much easier for counterfeiters to manufacture and then sell products directly to consumers. They often use stolen authentic images of equipment, and then deceive buyers by sending a fake in its place. It is a real problem, and The Group is continuing to improve its scale and ability to make consumers aware of the problem, while also working nationally and internationally with law enforcement officials to bring legal action against these perpetrators.
It’s probably impossible to know how much money legitimate golf equipment companies lose through counterfeiting, but how many consumers contact the ACWG or your members directly on an annual basis who have unwittingly purchased counterfeit equipment?
We are so grateful for all consumers who get in touch with us. And while we see a few hundred consumers contact The Golf Group annually, we know that many more have been duped and reach out directly to the manufacturers themselves.
If a consumer has a question about a product they’re looking to buy, we ask that they contact us beforehand and we will be more than happy to help them make sure they’re making a legitimate purchase. Not only are golfers putting their games and safety at risk by purchasing fake equipment, but they’re willingly giving their credit card information to criminals and putting their identity at risk too.
How successful has the ACWG and legitimate golf equipment companies been in shutting down counterfeit operations? How are you able to monitor websites selling counterfeit clubs online and what steps do you have to take to get websites shut down?
Last year alone we were able to remove over 1,000 websites that were selling counterfeit equipment. We regularly search for equipment for sale online, and after years in this business, the attorneys at the manufacturers know what signs to look out for. Simply put – if the website isn’t a recognizable URL or the deal is too good to be true or the site is claiming to sell authentic equipment while not being an authorized retailer, the chances are high that the equipment being sold isn’t the real deal.
The Golf Group also conducted six criminal raids in 2022, and we intend to continue to increase our raid activity in 2023. An additional focus going forward is to continue to institute major penalties for repeat offenders and to work to stop increasing levels of trademark infringement.
Where are most counterfeit clubs made and typically what corners do they cut to make their equipment so cheap?
Roughly 90% of all counterfeit equipment is produced in China. The corners cut can vary greatly, but what we have continued to see has been limited tech within the actual clubs (cavity back irons with no cavity, drivers assembled with cheap glue, putters that rattle, incorrectly weighted shafts that snap easily, etc. Other immediate red flags are the changes in font style, brand misspellings, or paint issues.
The most important thing to know about this equipment is that not only is it an inferior product performance wise, they also can be extremely dangerous to the health of the consumer. We have had direct feedback of fake clubs breaking during play and injuring consumers. Additionally, consumers may be putting themselves at financial risk for credit fraud or even potentially identity theft when purchasing counterfeit products off these untrusted websites.
When you come across evidence of counterfeit golf operations, is it simply a question of alerting local law enforcement agencies and leaving it to them to resolve? How difficult is it to track down the factory source as opposed to the third-party reseller?
We recommend that if anyone comes across evidence of counterfeit golf operations that they contact the golf group immediately. Local law enforcement is often not equipped to handle counterfeit operations of this scale, but The Golf Group works directly with law enforcement who specializes in this area and can better find these criminals and put them behind bars. Our members work in tandem with law enforcement in the US and in China to conduct investigations into these counterfeiters and raid their operations as efficiently as possible.
And while it isn’t a simple process to track down the factory source, we have connections all across the US and Asia who assist us with these matters.
What should consumers do if they think a website might be selling fake/counterfeit clubs?
We encourage them to contact us directly via our website: www.keepgolfreal.com/contact. We will look into the site and alert them if it is trustworthy or not.
What should consumers be looking out for to tell the real from the fake/counterfeit when they’re buying golf clubs online, whether it be through private sellers on e-commerce websites or standalone websites?
We want to make it clear that the only way you can ensure your equipment is authentic is by purchasing through an authorized retailer. If you don’t purchase from an authorized retailer, we cannot guarantee what you are buying is authentic. That said, there are some things to look for.
If the product is shipping directly from China, it is likely a fake. All major manufacturers ship and assemble their clubs from the United States. If the website is from a URL that you do not recognize, be very cautious. Many counterfeiters use fake websites that look similar to major manufacturers. If there is extra wording or numbers at the end of a URL, this is a counterfeit website. Additionally, if the price seems too good to be true, the listing photos look off or blurry, or you cannot clearly see what the product is, it is most likely a fake.
Some people may be deliberately buying counterfeit golf clubs for personal use in the same way that they might buy a fake watch or a handbag. Are they doing anything illegal by knowingly buying fake/counterfeit goods?
The law behind purchasing counterfeit goods isn’t very black and white, and we wouldn’t want to offer any legal advice directly. There are legal risks of purchasing fake golf equipment just as much as there are safety and financial risks as well. We strongly recommend all consumers to only purchase authentic equipment from authorized retailers. Only by doing this can you protect your safety, your legal record, and your golf game.