If you're like us, learning how to spot counterfeit golf clubs is something that sounds crazy to the people in your life, but it's a curiosity you just have to fulfill.
There’s a lot of debate as to exactly how widespread the counterfeit golf club problem is. In the mid-2000s some reports said as many as 25% of the clubs on eBay could be fake. Many dealers and consumers however have bought hundreds if not thousands of sets off of second hand marketplaces and never encountered a fake, meanwhile there have been recent seizures of 10,000+ and 100,000+ clubs from sting operations in China.
One extreme case was in 2009 when a counterfeit operation was convicted of selling millions of pounds worth of Chinese golf clubs to people all over the world through eBay. This article aims to reclaim the holy land of authentic golf clubs and golfing, by spelling out how to distinguish real and fake golf clubs.
Most in the industry agree that counterfeiting peaked at some point and has dropped off in some regard, but that it absolutely still exists as a major industry. Most consumers agree that being ripped off even one time is way more than they ever want to deal with. Because of this, brands and dealers are very concerned about the problem, but your average consumer who has not handled a lot of different sets of golf clubs with different qualities may actually have no idea that they own a fake set.
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As more people become aware of the problem and manufacturers take more steps to counter the counterfeiters, it may put a dent in the flow of clubs temporarily, but it’s also forcing counterfeit club manufacturers to make sharper and sharper fakes in order to capitalize on unsuspecting consumers, so a keen eye for many of the details which we will cover in this article is needed.
How To Identify Counterfeit Golf Clubs
People who handle many many sets of used golf clubs can become adept at identifying fakes immediately just through subtle details or feeling the club in their hands. Your average consumer, however, might need to really inspect some details and/or compare the club side-by-side with a known legitimate version.
Where Is It Coming From?
The first order of business is to avoid buying anything assembled in China. Granted, almost every club manufacturer uses parts made in China to some extent in their process, but most still assemble the clubs elsewhere. If you are buying a new, fully assembled golf club or set that ships from China … just don’t!
This covers the biggest segment of obvious counterfeits. Completely rule out the idea of buying a golf club from a Chinese e-commerce site such as Aliexpress or DHGate. This should be common sense, but sometimes people may think “how much worse could it be than the real thing?”
The answer to this question is that there is absolutely no comparison as the name of the game for counterfeits is making everything as cheap as possible every step of the way.
The old adage “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is” applies here. The market for golf clubs is very active, and unless you are at a garage sale or dealing with somebody who knows nothing about golf equipment on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace, prices generally get set fairly uniformly for clubs being resold. Meaning anyone operating a club-reselling business, whether online or brick-and-mortar, are going to have their clubs priced within a reasonable margin of the going rate based on the age of the club.
This is easiest to figure out with new golf clubs. People selling brand new golf clubs for more than 10-15% less than what the manufacturer offers them for is almost unheard of. Any deals like this should be scrutinized very heavily.
Almost all counterfeit spotters use the aesthetics of the club in order to suss out inconsistencies that quickly identify fakes. To the untrained eye these may not be noticeable at all, and are easiest when looking at two clubs side-by-side and paying careful attention to detail.
For others, they have seen a certain manufacturer’s or club’s script lettering so many times that something seemingly as small as a slight change in the thickness of the font used for branding or numbering the clubs can be a dead giveaway that something is off.
Even if the appearances of the club are somehow PERFECT (they virtually never are) for most people who have any sense of what high quality golf clubs feel and sound like, it can become immediately evident they are holding a complete imposter in their hands.
There is a lot of technology that goes into modern golf clubs. For game improvement irons and woods, drivers, and hybrids that performance does not come cheap, and while a counterfeiter may be able to reasonably duplicate the shape and logos and color schemes of a club, they literally cannot produce the same performance, feel, and sound or build a club that hit the ball as far as a well-engineered club made from top materials.
Even for more “basic” clubs such as blade irons, you will never see a counterfeiter use forged steel to make a club, so this is a dead giveaway as well. They can stamp “forged” onto a club that has been cast but one good strike will reveal the fake.
How To Spot A Counterfeit Head On Irons And Wedges
There are several aspects to look at when it comes to spotting a counterfeit iron or wedge head, but they might not be obvious. The best thing to do, if you haven’t seen that particular club many times before, is go for a side-by-side comparison and be very detailed.
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Things to pay attention to:
- The thickness of the lettering of any numbers or letters
- The exact font used
- Does the “paint fill” spill over in any places or does it not completely fill any areas?
- Is the exact shade of red, blue, etc. used?
- Look at the face of the club. Are there the same number of grooves and do they start and end in the correct places as the original?
- Counterfeit irons and wedges often wear down faster than the real deal
- Look at the size of the ferrule and see if it differs
- Look at the depth and width at which any etching or lettering is done
- Is the head exactly the right shape or does it differ?
Some of these will be subtle but eventually close inspection will confirm whether the item is fake or genuine.
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A lot is made of serial numbers, but most manufacturers can not confirm serial numbers to customers and even if they could, a counterfeiter could have just copied a legitimate serial number. If you can compare to a genuine club, you can compare whether the serial numbers are laser printed or stamped into the club, and whether they are the same size, font, and location as the legitimate club. Fake serial numbers are almost always laser printed, but more and more OEM manufacturers are using laser printed serial numbers themselves, so this is no longer a definitive factor.
The bottom line is, do not trust that a club is legitimate just because it has serial numbers on it. If the club has no serial numbers, that is cause to investigate further, although some legitimate clubs also do not have serial numbers so again it is not definitive.
How To Spot A Counterfeit Head On Drivers And Fairway Woods
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Drivers and fairway woods are somewhat easier to spot as fakes, because their designs are a little more “involved.” The first pass is to check a lot of the same things we would check with irons:
- Check the shape of the head, especially how it sits at address. Fake clubs may not have the same subtle balance to sit properly at address like a real club would.
- Look for differences in the curvature and where certain segments of the club head, such as the face and the body, come together to check for irregularities
- Thoroughly check the paint fills, fonts, and placement and style of all lettering. This includes the thickness of the fonts, whether they are neatly oriented, and whether any paint fill is thinning or “spills out” of the borders it should be in.
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One of the main things to check with woods and drivers is their overall weight and performance. When you hit an imitation metal-wood it will not sound, feel, or perform at all like the authentic club that has several hundred dollars worth of engineering and materials built into it.
One of the key material differences is that counterfeit drivers and fairway woods will not use advanced metals like titanium, which are in use in virtually all modern clubs (or some other composite). This means that the club will be markedly heavier, because it will be made out of steel.
This also means that it will fail the “magnet test” meaning that a magnet will generally not stick to an authentic (titanium/composite) club but it will stick to a fake fairway wood or driver (do not use this test for irons).
Check out our golf driver buying guide to learn more about how to find the perfect driver for your game!
How To Spot A Counterfeit Shaft
Spotting a counterfeit shaft is one place where experience comes in handy. In order to properly discuss this segment of the golf club business, it’s important to have some perspective on exactly how murky the waters are even from the top legitimate brands in the industry.
Without getting into too many details there are a lot of things that are done with golf shafts by some of the most-trusted names in the industry that would probably make the top counterfeiters blush, and many just assume that surely such practices are illegal in the USA and wouldn’t be allowed.
Unfortunately there are some very dubious tactics that are used by companies off-and-on over the years. This includes making shafts that cost pennies on the dollar and painting them with almost exactly the same graphics and labeling as the $300+ driver shafts we see a PGA TOUR player using (often with a tiny “made for” sticker somewhere inconspicuous or a one-digit difference in the model number). It’s honestly shocking that it’s not criminal, and is at the very least unethical, but it and many other misleading practices such as repainting and re-marketing shafts from previous years and shaft manufacturers “leasing” their name and logo to club makers to print onto bottom-barrel shafts to include in their off-the-rack clubs are all things that have been admitted by industry insiders in recent years.
So we have to distinguish that while the concept may be quite similar, none of these shafts actually qualify as “counterfeit” or “fake” per se. There are several things that you can note, however, when examining a shaft to determine if it is quality or not.
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The first concept to appreciate is that shafts that are both lightweight and stiff are expensive to make! So if you come across a new shaft that promises to deliver those things at a very budget price, be skeptical. It takes extremely high end materials and techniques to make shafts stiff without adding weight. Since there are no actual standards across the industry for shaft flex (any manufacturer can call any shaft they want anything they want) you will find that a lot of cheap, lightweight shafts that purport to be stiff or extra stiff actually aren’t that stiff.
A more subtle distinction is that it takes more expensive materials and techniques to build a shaft that has a more complex bend profile. The real difference in performance with high-end shafts, however, doesn’t come with just the flex but with the torque, or the tendency for the shaft to twist around its axis. You can build a heavy, telephone-pole-stiff shaft for fairly cheap, but shafts that undergo torque at high speeds in a predictable, repeatable way are going to be expensive.
Knowing these things can help you tell whether a shaft is quality or not just by swinging it or shaking it around, oftentimes. People who are experienced with clubs can feel these subtleties by holding or swinging the club one time and can discern a “cheap feeling” shaft from a shaft that responds in a way that is useful for the player. It should be noted that the softer the shaft, the easier it is to get it to perform acceptably at moderate speeds while using less expensive materials and manufacturing processes, so there is more room for savings while still delivering performance.
One final note is that, while most fake shafts are going to be graphite driver or wood shafts, it is also useful to look at the shafts and shaft bands of iron sets that are potentially counterfeit. Many counterfeiters will be sloppy with their placement of stickers, where authentic sets will have the placement be neat and uniform and also the stickers will stay in place very strongly while fake clubs may easily peel.
How To Spot A Counterfeit Grip
The grip is actually one of the best ways for a layperson to spot that something is “off” about clubs. Just like we would examine the logos, lettering, and color schemes on other parts of the club, these can often look very cheap on the grips and are easier to spot. One very important giveaway though is that cheap golf grips STINK.
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Meaning they literally smell awful. This is not a subtle thing. If you’re not sure, the grips are probably authentic. But cheap golf grips will have a sharp chemical smell when you open a box or have them in an enclosed area, and you will feel like you need to let them “air out” when they are newly opened.
One important note is that some club resellers take legitimate clubs and re-grip them with cheap grips as a standard business practice. Most second hand clubs need the grips replaced, and many consumers are going to change them anyway, so it makes sense to issue the clubs with a cheap alternative as a standard option.
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The big difference, however, is that these grips will be from a 3rd party company and labeled as such, and says nothing about the quality or legitimacy of the rest of the club. If the grips are purporting to be from Golf Pride or another OEM, however, and smell funny … start asking questions and examining the club heads very closely!
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How To Spot A Counterfeit Putter
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Putters are one of the more “faked” clubs because they are easier to duplicate than a very complicated driver or game improvement iron, and the markup is extremely high. One thing about nice putters, however, is that they actually do involve a lot of precision, so while it may be easy to fake a putter, the devil will always show up in the details.
As with all of our other clubs, discrepancies in the paint fill, lettering, logos, fonts, etc. used should be carefully examined.
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One key with putters is that the head shape could be slightly different from a legitimate item, which might be hard to spot. A big clue is if the club does not sit naturally in the address position. Looking at the club like this can also reveal inconsistencies or imbalances or loose manufacturing tolerances that wouldn’t be present in a bona-fide high-end putter.
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Pay special attention to the face milling on the putter. Counterfeits will duplicate the face milling quite accurately, but oftentimes it will be the correct pattern, but cut deeper or shallower or in an obviously less-precise way than the original.
Finally, check all the weight ports and run a finger over them to see if the weights sit completely smooth with the body of the putter head. High end manufacturers will have this right, while imposters will often not get details like this correct.
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The Most Common Counterfeit Golf Club
If there were an ideal club for a counterfeiter, it would be one that sold for a ton of money on the secondary market and was very hard to compare 1-for-1 with an original. Scotty Cameron putters fit this description more than any other club out there.
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Scotty Cameron putters are known for uniqueness and lots of subtle changes and different subtle styles over the years. The kicker is also that some of the most sought-after and high priced (into the thousands of dollars) Scotty Camerons have customizations such as a change in the hosel, a different logo in a different place, a different paint job, etc.
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Even many off-the-shelf Scotty Cameron putters present basically slight variations on a few common designs over the years, making it harder for the average person who might think something that looks “just a little different” with the insignia or head shape could be attributed to a customization or different model year.
The saving grace is that one of the things that makes Scotty Cameron putters so valuable is the materials they are made of, and the commitment to extremely high precision manufacturing processes. Neither of these things can show up in a counterfeit club or else there wouldn’t be a profit margin for the counterfeiter.
When evaluating a Scotty Cameron putter the usual things such as paint fill errors or improper fonts, etc. can be checked but the #1 earmark is the overall quality of the materials and the build of what you are holding. This will also show up in the balance of the club and the feel/sound when putting with it.
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What About Counterfeit Accessories?
Counterfeiters don’t stop just at hard goods. It’s also common to find counterfeit accessories, either sold with clubs or by themselves.
As with other soft goods, we want to check for the quality of the stitching and the materials used on a head cover. One often-overlooked part that is skimped on by counterfeiters is the closure, such as the velcro or magnet on a putter head cover.
These will often be the cheapest replacement parts, and possibly not line up perfectly, not close well, or just be noticeably cheaper and less functional than the rest of the item.
It’s important to assess the overall quality of materials and any insignias, etc. The texture, thickness, and overall strength of the materials will often be very suspect even though the shape and colors of the bag are similar to the item it is trying to duplicate.
However if you can’t compare, a great thing to check with golf bags are the “functional” parts meaning any zippers, enclosures, and especially the legs and straps and attachments if any. On a well made golf bag the legs will be designed to be very robust and made of strong, lightweight materials. Also the attachment points of the legs and of the straps will be very strong and sturdy. Examining these areas can reveal very quickly whether or not the product was actually made by the manufacturer whose name is stitched on the outside.
Is It Okay To Use Counterfeit Golf Clubs?
There are several reasons not to use counterfeit golf clubs. First of all, if you are playing in a competition, while it is unlikely that you would do well or that anyone would notice, technically the club may be non-conforming to the rules of golf or with the conforming clubs list provided by an organization like the USGA.
Secondly, it’s probably a bad choice to give a single penny to the criminals who are stealing designs and scamming customers. Even if you know the club is counterfeit, these clubs make their way into the marketplace and could end up being a rip off for somebody else down the line.
Overall, however, you really are going to see a dramatic drop off in performance and reliability from counterfeit golf clubs. Counterfeit clubs are known to fall apart, break, wear out, and deform very easily, and in the long run, even though you pay less up front you will spend more on golf clubs over time by playing knockoffs.
What Is Being Done To Prevent Counterfeit Golf Clubs?
Counterfeiting exploded when virtually all companies started outsourcing production to facilities in Taiwan and China, peaking in the late 2000s. Since then many measures have been taken, including searching employees with metal detectors daily, pressuring governments to enforce copyright laws, and high-profile sting operations. We recently even contacted Mizuno USA to ask for the head weight specs of a certain iron set and they responded saying that they were not allowed to release that data because of the risk of counterfeiting!
It seems however though that “where there’s a will there’s a way” and the payoff for an overseas factory worker or even executive to sell the details of a club design or use their means of production to forge dupes will always result in somebody taking the risk. One of the best measures has been educating the public and retailers about the problem and how to identify it.
The very top sellers on eBay and in the used clubs market (such as 2nd Swing, Global Golf, and their competitors) all are very adept at spotting fakes before they get to consumers and have policies in place guaranteeing the authenticity of products they sell and the feedback is that these systems are working and you can buy with confidence from reputable dealers.
There’s only one way we have been able to bring tons of upgraded technology to the golf equipment marketplace and keep the roof on prices for the average consumer over the past 20 years, and that has been to start outsourcing production to China. The unintended consequence of this is that there was a huge surge in stealing designs and counterfeiting golf clubs.
Many measures have been taken against this over the years, and while there has been a dent put in the overall number of fakes on the market, they definitely still exist and the ones that do are getting harder and harder to spot.
Things like font changes, imprecise color shades, and sloppy paint fill areas are some of the most universal giveaways that still might require a close look to detect. The overall quality and feel and weight and balance of the clubs will likely be off as well, but could take a more discerning hand to detect.
There is a pretty good rule of thumb that if you’re buying new clubs directly from a Chinese e-commerce site, the clubs are guaranteed to be fake (and you should never do this). It’s “user-to-user” transactions on online marketplaces and small sellers on eBay where problems can still occur, especially as some sellers might not even know that they were sold a fake in the first place and are unknowingly passing it on. If you are buying from a reputable reseller based in the USA they usually have experts to check clubs and have policies that guarantee that the product is legitimate, and you can generally buy with confidence.
However, when it comes to an expensive item like golf clubs, it’s always worth double-checking … especially now that you know how!