By now you’ve probably heard (and possibly experienced) that Costco has an issue with its latest foray into the golf ball business. I predicted that the cover of the new Performance One ball would likely be its undoing, and while it pains me to admit I got the why part of it wrong (it was way thinner than I thought it would be), the cover is most definitely a problem.
We initially became suspicious when the cover of the first ball we cut peeled off far too easily. At the same time, social media and golf forums became saturated with photos of new Kirkland balls with covers split in various places. One user reported tearing 6 balls over the course of 18 holes. Comparisons were made to balata balls.
That ain’t good, and Costco not only knows it; it has already done something about it.
Yesterday afternoon, Costco responded to the problem by issuing full refunds (including shipping) to everyone who purchased the balls. Customers don’t need to request the refund specifically, and Costco isn’t asking that the balls be returned. That’s the absolute right and best way to handle the problem.
The cause of the problem appears to be twofold. First, there looks to be a bonding issue between the urethane cover and the casing layer. That separation would make the cover more prone to cutting and splitting, which is exactly what golfers experienced.
BUYER BEWARE: The NEW Kirkland 4-piece cover
Performance results will be released next week. pic.twitter.com/5yfu8jarNu
— MyGolfSpy (@MyGolfSpy) September 20, 2019
More pressing and likely more difficult to resolve is what appears to be a crosslinking problem. Keeping this really simple; crosslinking is a part of the process for constructing injected TPU golf ball covers. Among other things, it’s responsible for increasing cover durability, more specifically, thin cover durability. The problem for Costco and SM Parker (Costco’s supplier) is that Bridgestone and Callaway control most of the intellectual property around the crosslinking of urethane golf ball covers. Licensing that IP (assuming the option was even on the table) would push the cost of the ball past Costco’s $15 price point. The prevailing suspicion inside the industry is that the factory may have attempted to navigate around those patents and in doing so, produced a cover that doesn’t hold up.
Design flaws notwithstanding, fans of Costco are applauding the move (and loving their free golf balls), and while issuing refunds was obviously the right thing to do (and more than others have done with problematic ball batches), owning your mistakes and doing right by your customers is, to borrow from Chris Rock, what you’re supposed to do – even if not everyone does it.
Making it right is one thing, but it’s more than reasonable to wonder how a golf ball that doesn’t hold up to being hit with a golf club ever made it to consumers.
Every factory has Quality Control processes in place, and while some are no doubt better than others, it’s also glaringly obvious that those checks sometimes, maybe even often, fail. In the best of scenarios, direct to consumer and house brands have internal QC processes to validate the product they receive from their factories. In other cases – as is the case here – a critical piece of the quality control process was apparently left to the consumer.
That’s not cool.
I love a good deal as much as the next guy, but this issue and others in the direct to consumer space are enough to make one wonder if a good portion of the DTC market falls on the wrong side of the line between inexpensive and cheap. Is a discount ball really a bargain?
The answer is no doubt different for every golfer, and it may depend on exactly how one defines bargain, but if you’re serious enough about your game that you can assign a value (whether it’s in dollars, frustration, or pride) to every stroke saved or wasted on the course, it might be time to rerun the calculations to figure out what you’re saving and what you’re losing by playing a golf ball where quality control isn’t a more significant part of the equation.