Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Golf Ball Wars

It just got serious. I was intrigued last year when Costco introduced its Kirkland Signature golf ball. I’ve always played Titleist balls, mostly their Velocity brand. Quite frankly, I’m not a good enough golfer to shell out almost $50 for a dozen Pro V1’s when I’m a 17 index. In truth, I’ve played with ProV’s and didn’t see much difference with my swing and ability to notice so opted to save 50%. I love the Velocity ball and it’s almost always in my bag. I could also play just as well with a Callaway or Bridgestone .

The Kirkland Signature ball was a sellout last year. It will soon be back in stores and is expected to sell out again. At $15.99 a dozen (or $29.99 for two dozen), it is easy to see why the average golfer would grab multiple dozens if offered the chance to purchase them. With a premium golf ball costing up to $5 a ball and many golfers losing up to a ball a hole, this is serious money. Golfers who want to spend less to get equivalent or almost equivalent quality are flocking to the ball. That is Kirkland’s promise. To deliver a product that is “equal or better to the national brands while offering a savings to its members.”

Sure, there is the whole, “I play ProV1” caché, but for the majority of golfers who aren’t out there to impress anyone with what ball they play, but rather with how well they play, does it really matter? Well, it does to Acushnet, the parent to Titleist, it matters. They have 11 patents on their design.
According to a recent test by MyGolfSpy, Kirkland’s Signature Performance golf ball did exceedingly well across all tests in which the Kirkland ball was compared with the Pro-V1. https://www.mygolfspy.com/kirkland-vs-titleist-pro-v1/

So now what? Kirkland’s suit is a pre-emptive strike; emphatically stating that they are not in violation of any of Acushnet’s patents.  They seek a declaratory judgment against Acushnet with the idea that they will prevent the reverse from happening, ie – Acushnet suing them for violating their patents. Bold move.

Especially bold given Acushnet’s history of navigating challenging similar threats. In 2015 they took on 17 different balls from ten different companies due to the dimple patterns on the balls. Acushnet also battled Callaway in the courts for six years – with the end result being completely confidential; no money was changed between the parties; however, each company ended up with specified rights to make ball and club products under patents owned by the other.

Costco is no shrinking violet and no stranger to the big fight. It won a long fought legal battle to sell gray-market Omega watches purchased overseas. But Acushnet is not one to back down either. It’s a battle that is likely to get pretty ugly before it’s resolved. It’s all about money, market share , an interloper, and, I suppose Costco would say, giving their customers the best product at the lowest price.

I like my golf friendly. There’s enough strife in the world without golf equipment manufacturers duking it out over dimples. I do respect patent protection and understand how serious it is with respect to competitive corporate positions. However, on the other hand, I also have serious doubts that the 1-10 index level players who are loyal Titleist ProV1 players going to switch from the Titleist to Kirkland balls to save a few dollars. There is the whole notion of pride, status and wanting to be just like the pros that will keep them forever shelling out the big bucks for their Titleist balls. On the otherhand, the hackers out there are just trying to save themselves a few bucks on the gazillions of balls they lose every year. Just sayin.