Check any golf retailer’s list of clubs and you’ll find them in a variety of prices. As of February 2012 consumers can pay more than $500 or less than $50 for a driver, with graphite shafts and titanium heads prevalent on both ends of the pricing spectrum. But for casual golfers, more expensive doesn’t always mean better. Some of the most expensive clubs are designed for professional and low-handicap players and won’t benefit the weekend golfer. Other pricey clubs have special features – such as drivers with movable weights and adjustable club faces – that beginners don’t need yet. Those looking for modestly priced equipment should also be wary of clubs that are truly cheap.
Successful golf club designs sold by major, name-brand manufacturers are often copied closely by other companies and then sold under different names. The clones are often made using the same materials as more expensive clubs, sometimes featuring shafts and grips from the same suppliers. But the cloned clubs carry smaller price tags in large part because of their companies’ lower development costs. The difference in quality between the name brand and cloned clubs depends on how the quality control of the manufacturing process.
According to a March 2011 article in Golf World magazine, Americans buy "hundreds of millions of dollars of counterfeit clubs" annually. Unlike clones, which are legal (provided patents aren’t infringed), counterfeit clubs are labeled and disguised as brand name products, often being almost indistinguishable from the real thing on the surface, Callaway Golf security director Stu Herrington said in a Golf Digest interview. These clubs, generally manufactured overseas and marketed via online auction sites, vary significantly from the originals when it comes to performance. Common problems with counterfeits include shafts that break easily, club heads that detach and incorrect swing weights, according to Golf Digest columnist E. Michael Johnson.
How to Spot a Counterfeit
Johnson notes that counterfeit clubs may differ cosmetically in several ways from the expensive clubs on which they’re modeled. Counterfeit clubs may lack serial numbers or have misspelled words on the club or the packaging. Consumers purchasing a purported titanium club in person can try attaching a magnet to the club head. Since titanium isn’t magnetic, if the magnet sticks to the club the head isn’t made from titanium.
One thing that inexpensive clubs likely won’t contain is the latest cutting-edge technology. Because much of that science is focused on producing clubs that are more forgiving of mis-hit shots, the newer clubs can often take strokes off a typical player’s score. As Golf Digest’s Johnson points out, “modern technology has greatly reduced the penalty for the inconsistencies of the swing.”