The Risky Business of Counterfeit Golf Clubs
Updated: Jan 11
These days, many of us are looking for ways to cut expenses, especially when it comes to non-essentials. Even our definition of “essentials” has changed (raise your hand if you have Facebook friends bragging about their shipment of “gold” - aka toilet paper). This strange new normal we’ve fallen into has altered consumer buying habits drastically. While weekend warriors may figure there’s little harm in purchasing counterfeit clubs, they’re wrong on several counts. Remember that when it comes to many things, including golf clubs, a deal that seems too good to be true probably is.
Cost Savings - JK!
My brother, a former golf instructor, thought he was being smart when he purchased a well-known branded driver on eBay at a heavily discounted price. Spending $150 USD on a club normally priced over $500 USD is a great deal. He was saving money! Unfortunately, that didn’t end up being the case. When he checked the serial number, it became clear the cheap driver was a fake. The fact the club head separated from the shaft on his second drive was also a pretty good giveaway.
OEMs charge a steep price because of the innovation that goes into the product, the materials and precision of manufacturing, and the quality assurance testing conducted before shipment. When you buy a genuine product, you know that the club will last for years and the play off the club will be consistent. My brother got three lousy drives for $150. That’s $50 per swing. You’d need 10 swings on the real thing to call it even, and your drives would be better.
There are a few entertaining videos featuring golf professionals who test counterfeit clubs against the real thing (with a lot of long-winded rants). I particularly enjoyed this video. While it’s a little sensationalized, Rick Shiels went to the effort of measuring hits on the course from a genuine TaylorMade M5 and whatever it was that arrived from wish.com. SPOILER ALERT: The results don’t lie. Not only did the fake club take 50 yards off Rick’s hit, it caused an artificial slice. Plus, the club head separated after a few drives. The weird pinging sound that happens during Rick’s drives on the fake club is a telltale sign that the wrong material was used to make it. Tin can’t compete with a titanium face and a carbon crown with tuning resin injections. Because of inconsistent angles on the club face, the lie, and the neck itself, you’ll be doing more damage to your game than you gain by saving money. Adjusting your swing to account for an uneven club face is no good.
It’s estimated that over 40,000 people are hit by errant golf balls and flying club heads per year. I no longer wonder why so many club heads are flying around... While this can happen due to bad technique or someone taking out frustration on their club, it’s more apt to happen with poor materials.
People have died from freak club accidents involving the shaft of a club shattering and piercing arteries, but a laceration, concussion, or more severe head injury are more common. The average club head speed during a swing is 100 mph, and a lot of fake club heads can be heavier than their legitimate counterparts. I'd take an errant golf ball to the shin over a flying golf club head any day. There may also be unnatural wear to joints when a swing is adjusted to compensate for bad angles, and the sting of a shot taken on a shoddily built club with a thin grip isn’t fun either.
How to Spot a Fake
I know many of us are shopping exclusively online due to COVID. Spotting a fake online is much harder to do than in person, but you have options. Call the manufacturer first. Manufacturers often have lists of authorized online vendors. Check out reviews of the vendors and website in question. Some people purchase positive reviews, so I always filter to the lower starred reviews. People will blog or post on Reddit if they feel cheated by a vendor, and it’s safest to assume their purchase wasn’t the exception. If you do take a risk on a purchase, you can have the manufacturer verify the serial number is genuine.
Sloppy stitching on golf bags, uneven logo placement, excess epoxy, painted features that should be components, foul-smelling or paper-thin grips, and anything that looks off when compared to a genuine article, particularly the ferrule, are all signs you have a fake. The devil is in the details as they say. Also, if a magnet sticks to your “titanium” iron or driver, it’s not really titanium. If the appearance doesn’t give a fake golf club away, the swing will. Shocking reverberation up a shaft or the separation of a club head after the first few shots are undeniable signs you’ve been had.
Where to Buy Clubs
The easiest way to avoid counterfeit golf clubs is to purchase your set through a verified vendor or order custom-fitted clubs from a manufacturer like Henry-Griffitts. You can see the care they put into each club to ensure ideal performance. However, not everyone can afford custom-fitted clubs. Secondhand isn’t a bad way to go if you go through a pro shop or sporting goods store with access to manufacturer databases. A lot of locations offer trade-ins to people purchasing a set and later resell those items for people looking for a discount.
If you must have the best brand at a decent price, older club models are an option. If you get the genuine article, you’re going to have a better drive with solid technology than a slapped together fake. Good luck and happy golfing!