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Fake Golf Clubs Cause Real Problems


A coalition of U.S golf equipment companies has for the last several years been working to stem the flow of illegal golf clubs into the country. But seizing illegal golf clubs at this end could only do so much. In order to really make a dent, help would be needed at the source in China. Last month, they finally got that help. The Chinese authorities jailed Tan Jian for four years and three months for running a counterfeiting golf club operation. Heeding the endless pleas of U.S. officials, Chinese authorities began addressing the crime as an offense meriting stiff sentences. It's one thing to raid illegal golf club foundries, another to actually hold perpetrators accountable.

"This sentence is absolutely significant", said Rob Duncanson, a Southern California - based attorney who serves as director of the U.S. Golf Manufacturers Counterfeit Working Group. He said the punishment is the most severe to date issued for a Chinese golf club counterfeiting case. It's a victory, but one that has come at a steep price. It's hard to put a hard number on it, but certainly it's in the hundreds of millions of dollars. It's hard to nail a number down because of so many factors: loss of sales, damage to reputation, cost of enforcement. "With such a big distribution chain around the world, you could probably just throw a dart at a big number," said Duncanson.

The U.S. coalition, founded in 2003 is comprised of six golf equipment manufacturing companies - Acushnet (parent company of Titleist and Cobra), Callaway, Cleveland, Nike, Ping and TaylorMade - maintains ties with a Hong Kong law firm that acts as its legal arm and works in tandem with Chinese authorities. Duncanson said the coalition's impact can't easily be calculated, noting the difficulty in tallying the dollar value or even the number of golf clubs seized in dozens of raids, mainly in China and several in Thailand. He says the group gauges its influence by the number of facilities and retail stores that had been manufacturing or moving counterfeit golf clubs but are now shut down. But for all of the coalitions success, it still struggled to persuade the Chinese judiciary to take greater action. Finally, with the arrest and sentencing of Tin Jian, the court determined that the sale of counterfeit golf clubs caused "great economic harm and damage" to authentic brands, many of which manufacture their products in southern China.

Even with the recent arrest, counterfeiting is, and will remain, a persistent problem. Lisa Rogan, Acushnet's trademark manager, concedes that counterfeiting is getting worse. She cites a soft economy that entices golfers and counterfeit peddlers "trying to find a deal and make an extra buck." She says "we'll never stop the counterfeiting, but we're trying to be a deterrent."











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