Imagine this dream scenario: You buy a new set of golf clubs and invite your buddies to play a round of golf on a Saturday afternoon.
Your friends, in deference to you with the new sticks, give you the honors on the first tee. It's a straight-shot par-5, and you pull out your shiny, new driver. "Look at this," you say. "Isn't it pretty?"
You get up to the box at No. 1 and take a few practice swings. "Watch, this one is going to go 300 yards," you say. Your backswing is smooth, your downswing is spot on and you make perfect impact with the ball.
Now, this is where the scene turns into a nightmare: The clubhead flies off the end of the shaft, traveling farther onto the first fairway than the ball, which squirts off into the bushes on the left.
With golf season in full swing, consumers could be thinking about purchasing a new set of clubs for next year. But before upgrading, buyers should be aware of the counterfeit market, which has increased with the growth in online commerce. Estimates put the number of counterfeits sold yearly at around two million clubs.
"It is just a huge, huge problem," said Wayne Mack, organizer of the Golf Manufacturers Anti-Counterfeiting Working Group. "We like to use this analogy: If you took all the counterfeit clubs bought in the U.S. last year and laid them down side by side, they would stretch from Bethpage Black (Long Island, N.Y.) to Pebble Beach (Calif.) and back again."
There is an important distinction to be drawn here. Counterfeit clubs are different from knock-offs, which look similar but do not claim to be the real deal. Counterfeits intentionally deceive the consumer into thinking they are buying a high-quality, name-brand club at a discounted price and steal the intellectual property from the companies.
Formed in 2004, the Working Group consists of five of the largest golf manufacturers -- Callaway, Acushnet, TaylorMade, PING and Cleveland Golf -- which came together to combat the issue, with Mack serving as their legal representative and coordinator. Mack said the group's mission is "enforcement and education."
As far as eradicating the problem, Mack said in the past 18 months the group has conducted or participated in roughly 40 successful raids, where it seized more than $1 million worth of counterfeits. Mack said the vast majority -- nearly 80 percent -- of the counterfeiting efforts originate in China.
To inform consumers, the group Monday launched a website, www.keepgolf real.com, which aims to make consumers aware of its effort as well as the dangers of golf counterfeiting.
So what can you do to protect yourself from purchasing a counterfeit club? Mack said the best way is to buy from authorized manufacturers, who have strict technical specifications and quality standards that the counterfeits are not required to meet. As a general rule of thumb, Mack said, if something looks too good to be true, it probably is. When purchasing online, Mack said to look at where the club is being shipped from and ask for the club's serial number, as Internet consumers do not have the advantage of being able to hold the club in their hands.
Counterfeiting does not seem to be as prevalent among Miami-area consumers, as several golf courses and professionals in South Florida said they had heard of the issue but had not experienced it firsthand. But Phil Sanford, a pro shop attendant at Country Club of Miami, said he knew of one person who purchased a set of counterfeit irons and was unable to return them.
In repeated robot testing of the products, Mack said the counterfeits' performance variance "has always been pretty significant," with everything from a little slice to a serious problem, like the clubhead flying off.
These instances cause complaints about quality and safety, but consumers have also voiced brand and honesty concerns, as they often believe their underperforming, counterfeit clubs are legitimate and have come from major manufacturers.
"This is costing companies significant amounts of revenue and costing jobs," Mack said. "From an economic standpoint, it is very troubling."