Behind The Curtain: Just Who Is Designing Your Golf Clubs?
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Behind The Curtain: Just Who Is Designing Your Golf Clubs?

Behind The Curtain: Just Who Is Designing Your Golf Clubs?

One thing you can say about MyGolfSpy readers: you guys don’t miss much. Often, when a new club is released, we see comments claiming said new club is just a copy of so-and-so. In virtually every case, however, there’s a big difference between similar to and copy of. Sometimes cynicism is warranted, often it isn’t.

Back in March, we wrote of the return of Lynx Golf to the U.S. market, and several of you pointed to a strong resemblance between the new Lynx Prowler CB iron and a now-retired offering from Hireko Golf, the Dynacraft Prophet MB. Another reader found similarities between the Lynx Tour Blade and an iron from Diamond Tour Golf called the Henry Hatton MB-70.

In the case of the Prowler CB and Prophet MB, similar is, in fact, the same.

Lynx CB

Hireko Golf asserts – and Lynx does not dispute – that the Prowler CB and the Prophet MB are the exact same forged 1025 carbon steel head. Based on what we’ve learned, it’s clear Lynx didn’t “copy” the club or do anything shady or untoward. But when you look behind the curtain, it does open up a ton of questions about Chinese manufacturing, intellectual property and, most importantly, just who is doing golf’s innovating.

Prowler Vs. Prophet

“We designed that iron in March of 2014,” Jeff Summit, Hireko’s Technical Director, tells MyGolfSpy. “We sold that iron until the end of last year.”

Summit says Hireko wasn’t particularly pleased when they saw the Lynx version at the PGA Show in January.

“We called up the foundry that made it for us – they vehemently said they didn’t give up that design because they knew it was exclusive to us. So we don’t know how they (Lynx) got it”

“Chances are it wasn’t through a subcontractor because I doubt they would know who those subcontractors are. They maybe went to a showroom at a foundry and saw a particular model and said ‘that’s pretty cool, can we have our name on it?’, not knowing it was something active in our line. Who knows?” – Jeff Summit, Hireko Golf

From what Lynx CEO Steve Elford tells MyGolfSpy, it’s a fair bet that’s exactly what happened, as Elford says his R&D person sourced it from a factory in China, and they have in writing that it’s an open model.

“We’re not claiming we designed this model,” says Elford. “It’s open, so someone else could use it if they wanted to. We just wanted to do a forged CB style without spending thousands on tooling, because it’s obviously not something we’re going to sell loads of at this stage. So is it, when you’re fairly new to a market, worth spending $30- to $40,000 on tooling to do a tweak that 95% of golfers wouldn’t notice?”

Elford adds that while the new hollow-bodied Lynx VT iron is a patented design, the Lynx Tour Blade, which has been in their lineup for about five years, is also an open model. Jason Hilland of Diamond Tour Golf isn’t certain it’s the same as the Henry Hatton blade, but it wouldn’t surprise him.

“It’s at least ten years old and is definitely an open model. We shared it with Alpha Golf at the time. It’s a damn good blade – I still play it today.”

tour blades

The Mystery of China

So how does one company’s discontinued intellectual property become another company’s open model new iron for 2018? Welcome to manufacturing in China.

“Sometimes…a factory or design team will spot a fledgling new product on the internet, figure out how it’s made, and start churning out near-identical products,” says journalist Josh Horwitz on Quartz.com. “Other times, a Chinese partner factory will produce extra units of a product they agreed to make for another company, and sell the surplus items themselves online or to other vendors.”

EP-312109731.jpg&updated=201512101830&imageversion=Facebook&exactH=630&exactW=1200&exactfit=crop&noborder

Horwitz says the shenzhai phenomenon, named after the Shenzhen manufacturing region of China, is a generally accepted Chinese manufacturing modus operandi – factories share information and know-how while skirting existing, and often unenforced, intellectual property laws. Several factories making – and selling – virtually the same thing isn’t out of the ordinary.

“Much like how programmers will freely share code for others to improve upon,” he writes, “Shenzhen manufacturers now see hardware and product design as something that can be borrowed freely and altered.” A recent report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies says it’s common practice for a Chinese manufacturer who makes a product according to an importer’s design to try to sell the same thing to other Chinese manufacturers. Samples and drawings will find their way into other showrooms.

The path from Prophet to Prowler is becoming a little clearer.

The Open Model Question

Michael Vrska, former Global Director of Innovation for Wilson Staff and Director of Product Development for Adams Golf, says true open models are designed by Chinese head manufacturers and can be sold to anyone with a checkbook and an email address.

“Some of the head manufacturers have literally dozens and dozens of open models that they’ve designed,” he tells MyGolfSpy. “There were days in the past – and I do believe it is in the past for the reputable manufacturers and big OEMs – where a design would get stolen, for lack of a better term. There’d be a CAD model that was proprietary and, if you worked with a slightly less scrupulous head vendor, they’d tell people it was an open model, and you’d see it wind up somewhere else.”

It’s important to note, in this case, we’re not talking about counterfeit clubs. Counterfeiting still exists, but OEMs have worked together to minimize the impact.

“The big guys – Callaway, TaylorMade, Titleist, PING, Cobra – their manufacturers have metal detectors. When workers come in and out, they have to take their phones out of their pockets. The days of stealing heads and walking it down the street and selling it to have a knockoff out before the original? I guess it’s still possible but we haven’t seen it in a while. The manufacturers realize how important it is to take care of the big OEMs.” – Michael Vrksa

The major OEMs have their own buildings in China, and security is pretty tight. If you work for TaylorMade, for example, you can’t go into the Callaway building. “But when you go to some of the low-end club head suppliers,” says Vrska, “those are the ones where you get on the fringe because they’re trying to earn every penny.”

Chinese manufacturing - 1

While it’s pure conjecture on our part, it’s easy to envision a design from a relatively small outfit, such as Hireko, finding its way to another factory. Often, in the case of a product in its second or third year of product life, the original foundry may outsource 100% of the production to a second foundry due to capacity issues or to save costs. Once you get to a second or third tier supplier, all bets are off. In China, when they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, they really mean it.

“We never told the foundry we were discontinuing the product, we just didn’t place any more orders for it,” says Summit of the Prophet iron. “There’s enough documentation that shows it’s a Dynacraft product.” And despite the disappointment of seeing his product with someone else’s name on his iron, Summit says Hireko isn’t going to do anything about it.

“It’d probably cost us more money than we’d ever make off it.”

China Games

If you want a chuckle or two, Google Chinese Copycat Brands. You’ll find some funny stuff, like Johnnie Worker Red Labial scotch, Sunbucks Coffee, Borio Cookies, Aberkrombie & Fetch jackets and footwear from Sdidsa, odidoss, adadis or daiads – all in the adidas font and with three stripes. There was even a chain of 22 fake Apple stores that were so perfect, the employees themselves thought they were working for Apple.

Johnnie Worker

Perhaps the most egregious case was an entire parallel enterprise to Japanese electronics giant NEC – a total carbon copy, complete with business cards, R&D, factories, and warranties all bearing the NEC trademark. The organization had over 50 factories in China and Taiwan and was in every way NEC’s twin, to the point where some of its products were sold side by side with legit NEC stuff.

Closer to home, a decade ago Adams Golf learned that virtual copies of its product were being sold in China, and Adams wasn’t the only one it happened to.

NEC

Yes, copying – or if you want a nicer word, sharing – is business as usual in China. But while researching this article, we came across sources – anonymous for obvious reasons – who hinted that maybe, just maybe, Chinese R&D was playing a bigger role in what OEMs are producing than OEMs would like you to believe, with one source calling OEM R&D largely a “sham.”

Further investigation shows that claim to be not entirely true, but not entirely false, either.

The R&D Rodeo

In a perfect world, the OEM does all its own research, development and equipment design work, and then has an overseas manufacturer turn those CAD files into golf clubs or, in today’s world, sump pumps, razors or damn near anything else you use on a daily basis. But it’s not a perfect world, and it’s not uncommon for any company to take advantage of as much outsourced expertise as possible.

“Take golf clubs out of it,” says Vrska. “Anyone who’s paying somebody else to do something, you want to use as much of their services as you can, right? This isn’t any different.”

“You’re paying for the golf club heads on a per-piece basis, and you expect a certain amount of engineering support. So you push that. And sad to say, it’s one or two or ten less engineers you need to have here in the U.S. That engineering support is kind of a built-in cost to the heads already.” – Michael Vrska

That said, Vrska, Summit, and others do not believe the majority of the R&D is being done by the Chinese.

“The M in OEM no longer stands for manufacturing, it stands for marketing, in most cases,” says Summit. “They’re designing, but it’s all through CAD, so it’s all zeroes and ones, and then it’s sent to the foundry where they can take the CAD file and go directly to tooling.”

Golf engineer 1

“OEMs spend millions of dollars on R&D for a reason,” says Jeff Brunski, R&D Director for Srixon/Cleveland/XXIO. “If we could just outsource it, we would happily save that money.”

“Our manufacturing partners are, in some instances, more knowledgeable than us about certain processes. Casting extremely thin titanium requires a lot of know-how. However, it’s not accurate to suggest their know-how extends to the point where they are meaningfully contributing to performance improvements or innovation.” – Jeff Brunski, Srixon/Cleveland/XXIO

“I would not say they’re doing most of the engineering,” says Vrska. “Are the Chinese bringing ideas to the table? Are U.S. engineers working with Chinese engineers to make it easier to manufacture, to make it more efficient to manufacture and more cost-effective? Unquestionably. Are there ideas that originate in China that U.S. manufacturers have taken credit for? Also unquestionably.”

Lynx’s Elford says it can work both ways. “Our guy has offices in China, and he’ll see what they’re doing,” he says. “Quite often he’ll see ideas and will say ‘that’s quite good, but here’s how I can improve it.’ So we’ll work together with them. I would say that’s very standard.”

“Companies with volume production (the major OEMs) have employees that live in Asia and are in the factories every day,” says Cobra R&D chief Tom Olsavsky. “These employees run the gamut from Innovation Engineers, Development Engineers, Quality Engineers and Sourcing and Planning types. It’s a fairly good mix of US-born employees living in Asia and Asian-born employees. These are all paid for by the OEMs, not the vendors, and are all managed from U.S. headquarters.”

engineering

In international manufacturing, a common scenario has a domestic company developing a full CAD model and sending it to China to be reviewed by their engineers, who’ll come back with a variety of suggestions. For golf clubs, for example, they might suggest a change in chamfer here or a draft angle there or suggest a manufacturing process that could make the face thinner.

“Do they bring ideas? Do they improve products? Do they make it easier to finish? Yes to everything,” says Vrska. “But I don’t consider that designing the golf club by any stretch.”

On the other hand, it’s also common for Chinese foundries to bring prototypes of their own design to an OEM for a look-see. “Manufacturing partners will show us ideas or concepts from time to time,” says Brunski. “But that very rarely ever leads to something you’ll see in a production club.”

The bigger OEMs usually get to see these prototypes first, and if they say no thanks, it goes down the line to smaller OEMs.

“It’s both plausible and for sure has happened that a bigger OEM says ‘wow, we like it, we’re gonna tweak it and call it our own,'” says Vrska. “More often than not it’s the smaller OEM who doesn’t have as many creative people and doesn’t have as many resources to do advanced development work. They’re going to use the available resources the best way they can.”

Sham/Not A Sham?

So, is the idea of the OEMs being big R&D machines really a sham? As with anything involving global manufacturing in an increasingly smaller world, the answer is: it depends.

OEMs do spend significant money on R&D, and it’s obviously in their best interests from a branding standpoint for you to believe they do all of their own innovation in-house. But it’s clear many, if not all, get significant input from their Chinese partners. It would be naive to think there’s no collaboration, and the smaller the OEM, there’s likely a greater level of collaboration. It’s also clear that in some cases, major OEMs have sold open models as their own premium equipment and have used ideas brought to them by their partners and called them their own.

However, those do seem to be the exception as opposed to the rule. In reality, the lines are a bit blurry, but it’s clear there’s plenty of collaborative expertise, and right now, the greatest expertise China offers is in manufacturing.

“Since the first time I went over to China, 18 years ago now, everything has changed,” says Vrska. “The infrastructure has changed, the quality of engineers, everything has improved. They’re world-class manufacturers.”

“Over time they’ll change course and become designers,” says Hireko’s Summit. “Right now, they’re manufacturers. They’ll make anything.”

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John Barba

John Barba

John Barba

John is an aging, yet avid golfer, writer, 6-point-something handicapper living back home in New England after a 22-year exile in Minnesota. He loves telling stories, writing about golf and golf travel, and enjoys classic golf equipment. “The only thing a golfer needs is more daylight.” - BenHogan

John Barba

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      PJ

      2 years ago

      Now we know why everything New Level sells looks like something we have seen before

      Reply

      Owen

      2 years ago

      I spoke with a man who worked for Ping for 30 years. He said that 95% of clubs are produced by the same 4 or 5 factories in China or Thailand. All the big brands,

      Reply

      Simon

      6 years ago

      The plot gets even thicker when you realize the owner of Hireko in the US has a brother who owns a golf club foundry in China. The same factory that has made for Lynx, Hireko, Adams, Benross, John Letters, Air Force One and countless others.

      Reply

      Dave

      6 years ago

      So when I purchase a new set of irons how do I know what I’m getting ?

      Reply

      KM

      6 years ago

      Speaking as a golf club designer, there is some truth to the article, it depends on your manufacturer amd how well you are protecting your designs. Big companies have to collaborate with chinese companies because they also have patents in China to protect their own ideas. In my opinon golf clubs have become over designed to make it more difficult to produce and expensive to patent.

      Reply

      Sean Ambrose

      6 years ago

      At first glance the Lynx blade looks strikingly familiar like the Titleist 716 MB. I wouldn’t surprised if it were a carbon copy in design from the Titleist MB line.

      A few years ago a workmate was sent to China to purchase the Quay Cranes that are currently in use at Port Botany. Whilst he was there, he was asked if there was anything he would like to purchase and take home, he responded by saying that he’d like to purchase some golf clubs. He was taken to a showroom in one of the manufacturing hubs in China and admittedly he said that he wasn’t impressed. The clubs he was initially shown were not of his liking and he relayed this to his guide who relayed this to the person working on the showroom floor.

      My mate was asked via his guide what he was after and he replied “Ping Golf Clubs”. My mate said what happened next was like something out of Maxwell Smart. The store person hit a button from under the counter and a set of hidden doors what at first appeared to be a wall opened up to reveal a showroom full of knock off Ping equipment.

      My mate purchased several items including a full set of knock off Ping Clubs.

      Whilst we may be somewhat concerned about IP another workmate and avid golfer was recently telling me about an old golfer he knew that did his trade designing and crafting Woods in the 1930’s and during the years when they were made from persimmon timber. I just forget who the old bloke worked for but from recollection it was a partnered name and they were an English Company. One day this bloke (who was quite young at the time) and having finished work was approached by another man whilst walking home. The man had asked him to copy the companies latest Driver. The young man was somewhat reluctant at first and initially thought he had been set up by his employer. Work being scarce and the country being in depression he declined. After a few weeks of being followed and badgered about copying the design he was offered £50 for a good copy of their design.

      A long story short, the persimmon was an inventoried product and damage had to be itemised. The young bloke knew that he couldn’t misappropriate a finished product and devised a plan to copy an existing Driver by substituting the timber with Rosewood. As relayed to me the story goes that the young bloke had set up the piece of timber on the lathe and began working away at copying the finished product. Unbeknown to him before commencing the process, he did not realise that the rosewood when heated would give off a peculiar smell. The smell of the rosewood was enough to cause the boss to come and investigate what was going on and ask the young bloke what he was doing? The story goes that the young bloke thought he was done for but on the spur of the moment replied “I’m trying a new line of timber to test for improvement”. The boss patted him on the back and responded “let me know how it goes”. That afternoon the young bloke met with his contact and passed off the rosewood copy and the following week he placed a deposit on a new home.

      If I recall the story correctly that was the beginning of Slazenger but I may have the company wrong.

      Reply

      Sidvicius

      6 years ago

      yes, I would really like to see the lesser known club makers compare to the so called elite.
      But I have to be honest here some of the designs these 2nd tier manufacturers have are really bad ( i.e. Colors of lime green, orange , Bright red) .

      Reply

      Peter Eller

      6 years ago

      everything is a remix, One-day people will realize that IP is a canard
      https://youtu.be/nJPERZDfyWc

      Reply

      HikingMike

      4 weeks ago

      For golf clubs maybe. These are just materials in a certain shape and combination, conforming to a set of limitations. Major innovations are rare. For other things, IP is not a canard.

      Reply

      Ed R

      6 years ago

      Extremely enlightening story on so many more levels than just golf; however, the golf side is excellent. I am shocked that Lynx would be that bold in the identical copy, but I am not in the industry. Makes me glad I just made a set of the Prophet irons and for much less than the Lynx. Please keep up the amazing articles.

      Reply

      John Barba

      6 years ago

      Thanks for the kind words Ed. I’m not certain Lynx was even aware that what they were being sold was a “copy.” They were told it was an open model – and have it in writing from their foundry that it’s an open model. And as an open model, ANYONE could buy it. Heck, you and I could start our own golf business this afternoon, go to that foundry and wind up selling that exact same head.

      IMO Lynx is clean in all of this – the real mystery, and I think we were able to piece together the process pretty accurately, is how that head made it from the foundry Hireko used to the foundry that sold it to Lynx.

      Either way, from everything I’ve read it’s a pretty solid golf club, no matter whose name is on it.

      Reply

      Nick Aquilino

      6 years ago

      John as a further clarification, once a golf club or club head is offered for sale, typically the owner or inventor has a year to obtain patent protection. If nothing is done the structure (or design) is in the public domain. At that time, as you have said before, anyone is free to reproduce the club as long as trademark issues are avoided.
      No real mystery as how another foundry starts producing the same. All that needs to happen is a sample is purchased in the open market, scanned by a CAD machine and reproduced. Nothing illegal or even unethical about the process. As discussed in this forum, patents have become too expensive, the same way a doctor or hospital now charges ten times more than 20 or 25 years ago.

      In the present situation it would have been wise to obtain a design patent in the US at least, a primary market. That would have kept the design structure proprietary for a number of years for a reasonable cost and we would not be having this conversation.

      Mike Ohanian

      6 years ago

      As the cost of our beloved game increases, so too do our expectations. This article is a great reminder of the importance of being informed. MGS continues to be one of the few resources we can count on.

      I would love to have a more in-depth look at the real difference between what the pros play and what comes off the shelf.

      Reply

      Deepak

      6 years ago

      Gr8 article really liked it.

      Reply

      Spitfisher

      6 years ago

      Excellent article, much of which I have known before having been involved in footwear. The only thing I would add to it the intellectual property of one manufacture to another is also stolen ( shared) at will. No metal detector can stop it. and it will continue largely due to the cost that consumers are willing to pay for a “logo” rather than actual R & D

      Reply

      Eagle Vision Golf

      6 years ago

      Great article, keep up the good work My Golf Spy!

      Reply

      Fozcycle

      6 years ago

      Great article John, and from the looks of the replies it’s getting some interesting discussions.

      Reply

      Noel Guillaume

      6 years ago

      Great insight John – keep up the good work and other info coming.

      Reply

      Randy R

      6 years ago

      So the only clubs made entirely in the USA are Pings? Are there any clubs (besides Ping, assuming they’re made in the USA) not made in China in some form or another?

      Reply

      Mike

      6 years ago

      No, Ping clubs that are sold in the US are assembled in the US but heads are still made in Asia just like everyone else. Ping was the last one making heads in the US until the 2000s when they made the switch, woods went first and then irons. The only exception are small batches of certain iron and wedge heads that are still occasionally made in the US, such as customer replacements for lost or damaged older model irons from a set, or tour stuff.

      Many of the high end putters brands still make (mill) their heads in the US, apart from that very few golf clubs aren’t made in Asia.

      Reply

      Mike

      6 years ago

      John, great article!

      Visited the PXG factory in Scottsdale last March. Very impressive. I am ordering a 4 iron (2 Generation) to see if the $350 price tag makes sense when my Taylormade irons work pretty well.

      Reply

      Nope

      6 years ago

      Hate to burst your bubble, but you didn’t visit the PXG “factory” in Scottsdale. They make their clubs in China just like everybody else. You may have visited their headquarters, but it certainly wasn’t their factory.

      Reply

      Gorden

      6 years ago

      Even Ping that made the best recreation irons ever the Eye 2’s, cast irons overseas for years now. As someone else said about the golf ball business anyone with a few extra bucks can get as many “Good” golf balls with their logo on them from China 24/7 and become an overnight golf ball company….looks like even Costco will have an endless supply of Kirkland three piece now form China.

      Brad

      6 years ago

      This is no surprise at all to me. About 16 years ago I worked for one of the largest electronics contract manufacturers in the world. We not only manufactured, but also designed products for companies including IBM, HP, Dell, AMD, Motorola, NEC, Lockheed Martin, etc. and the products ranged from glucose monitors, to POS terminals, computers, CPUs, to flight system components for jet fighters. In some cases, companies would contract us and provide requirements for a product, which we would then design, prototype, develop processes for mass production, manufacture, label, box, and ship the product direct to the retailer. There were many, many cases where the only contribution the retail company had to the product was to tell us what they wanted – they did not design, build, package, or even ship the product. Not a single person employed by the contracting company ever touched the product before it got to the hands of the consumer. It was an eye opening experience working there.

      Back then, we were one of the few companies still manufacturing and/or assembling components and completed systems in North America. We had several factories in Alabama and across the US as well as Europe. The company was just starting to move to acquiring or building factories in China because of the looming threat of Chinese manufacturing undercutting everyone. Before that, China was only capable of second rate, low quality manufacturing, but were quickly advancing mostly through “borrowing” (stealing) manufacturing technology an processes. The company I worded for wisely was concerned about theft of IP by Chinese companies or partners in opening up facilities there. They were correct and China has stolen pretty much every technology and process imaginable because they have no respect for IP. This was nothing new for the Chinese as it is what they have done for a long, long time.

      Prior to working in manufacturing, I worked in Defense and pretty much all of Chinese military equipment from small arms to jet fighter to radars and missile defense systems were designs they had reverse engineered from Russian, European, and American equipment. In fact, there was a story I heard from a reliable source that as soon as the Chinese were able to reverse-engineer any aircraft they were importing from Russia – they would promptly cancel all future orders and begin making their copy of the aircraft themselves. The Russians were not at all pleased (imagine that) and began only selling old, second rate equipment to the Chinese military.

      This is one of the reasons why I favour good quality forged irons from Japanese companies such as Mizuno, Miura, or those made by Endo for other companies (i.e. Srixon, Fourteen Golf, etc.). At least you know that there is a certain level of craftsmanship and less outright theft of IP or blatant copying of designs occurring. The Chinese foundries produce good quality forged and cast irons as well, but I just can’t get over the fact that they have gotten there by flat out stealing everything. This is also why I prefer Ping woods because they do a better job than most at ensuring their products aren’t copied as easily or as often by the Chinese manufacturers.

      Technology may provide an answer in the near future. As 3D printing develops further, it may be possible to create products from any material that have a nearly perfect grain structure using nanoscale printing techniques that would allow for the creation of almost any internal structures in products, including club heads. That could possibly shake up the manufacturing industry at some point and bring more of it back out of China. Or not, it’s hard to compete with China when they don’t play by the rules. China more than deserve any tariffs that are slapped on them in my opinion.

      Reply

      Nick Aquilino

      6 years ago

      Extremely relevant information and that is why there is a patent system……………

      Reply

      Large chris

      6 years ago

      Absolutely true, I’ve had a lot of the same experiences in my industry. However what is also interesting, and tragic, is that a lot of the original motivation for the Chinese as copyists was that so many of their intellectuals / engineers died under Chairman Mao. There is a fair bit of evidence now that they are finally developing their own engineering talent through their universities so I think we’ll see some changes in their economy and possibly some new respect for IP as they seek to protect their own innovations. How the world turns.

      Reply

      James

      6 years ago

      Most of you weren’t around when the Japanese economy took off by copying American products and dumping them here for less than cost to take over many of our industries. The Chinese just did what Japan did.

      Reply

      mackdaddy

      6 years ago

      Wow, It really makes you wonder.

      Reply

      Stu

      6 years ago

      Superb article! now.. here’s a little bit of a detour question off the main path from this article but still travels somewhat adjacent to it. Companies like Hireko, Maltby (golfworks), Pinemeadow, Gigagolf, Wishon, etc are companies that the average golf consumer has likely never heard of. I’d venture to say that 70% of golfers aren’t familiar with them. They have proprietary designs (not stolen), sell DTC (direct to consumer), and custom-build sets with a wide variety of name-brand components that cover all skill levels and all at a fraction of the price of the biggies (talking half or less). They all tout that because they’re not spending these millions of dollars on R&D, tour pro sponsorships, advertising, and other reasons mentioned in this article, they’re able to keep the production costs down significantly. With this small introduction to Hireko, it’s apparent that these smaller guys have products that are good enough for other bigger OEM’s to take note of (inadvertently or not). Enough to re-stamp the exact same product with their more notable brand .. possibly with the pretense that the average Joe would be none the wiser and would pay big bucks for their more recognized name. Would somebody at MGS please do a report on these lesser-known companies to compare to the big names? Sure they’re discussed within the forums but those are folks who are in those small clubs of supporters. With the industry’s movement to grow the game, appeal to broader audiences, etc, it’s really hard to do that when the equipment is just so expensive and almost exclusive. I know.. used clubs.. yada yada.. but there’s nothing like a brand new set of custom built clubs to motivate one to take the game more seriously. I personally play the Maltby brand (DBM Forged CB) and am yet to find a major brand club that I’d consider better let alone worth paying $1000+ for. I’ve also played Gigagolf and some Hireko built clubs and they’re all just excellent.. I’ve owned sets from the big names as well. I realize this post might get kicked to the curb but it’s worth throwing out there.

      Reply

      MGoBlue100

      6 years ago

      Good post, and I agree: these clubs should be tested head to head against the big boys! #TruthDigest

      Reply

      Matt

      6 years ago

      100 percent agree. I remember one set of Dynacraft irons being reviewed years ago, and it had one iron that was way out of spec (promptly replaced I think, and uncharacteristic in my experience) but that was something the reviewer couldn’t get past. I think they revisited a year later and did a group test of them that was mostly positive. But otherwise…that’s it. Never seen any of Hireko/Maltby/etc etc’s products put through their paces here. Maybe the custom fitting requirement warps it a bit (eg Most Wanteds are always in stock config, but the component guys have no stock config by definition) but I’m sure they could find a workaround if they wanted to.

      Brad

      6 years ago

      Smaller companies like the ones you mention mostly have their club heads manufactured in China. The quality control is very good in most of these facilities now (thanks to decades of stealing processes and technology), but it also means that it is more likely their original designs will be stolen and copied or counterfeited. Larger companies such as Callaway and Taylormade can apply legal or business pressure and/or cancel contracts if their products are stolen or copied. The smaller companies can do nothing to protect themselves.

      If I came up with an original design for an innovative product, there is no way I would have it manufactured in China regardless of the cost savings. Unless you are a big company, you can’t protect yourself from the theft of IP that is a way of life there.

      Reply

      keith irvine

      6 years ago

      You mentioned Wishon Golf as one of the companies you can buy from at reduced prices. WRONG!!! I just bought a complete set of Wishon golf clubs through one of their distributors/fitters and paid an arm and a leg for them. $2700.00 to be exact. They do their own R & D and pay for their tooling and forgings. I love the clubs btw, just don’t think they should be included in that list.

      Reply

      Stu

      6 years ago

      Yeah wishon was kind of my wild card in that mix that probably could have been left out. He ticks some of those boxes but definitely not the low cost one.

      strokerAce

      6 years ago

      I was fit for a set of new Wishon Sterling single length irons 5-P with XP 90 stiff shafts and paid less than 1k…. I also got a new Titleist 4 hybrid and I think the final cost was around 980.

      I think they are definitely lower priced than some of the big boys.

      strokerAce

      6 years ago

      I currently play the Wishon Sterling irons and they are some of the best clubs I’ve ever used; I’ve had Ping, Callaway, Bridgestone, Titleist, etc. and I would not hesitate to put these right next to them as far as quality goes.
      The other thing I like about Tom is that he is a dedicated craftsman. I find him similar to Scotty Cameron or Sean Toulon or Bob Vokey…people that are fanatic about making the absolute best product for the consumer. I was on the fence about the Wishon irons but did a fair bit of research and even was able to ask Tom a couple of questions which he answered directly. How many OEM’s will do that?
      Great idea Stu – lets get a test of some of these lesser known products by MGS so that they get more exposure to the community!

      Reply

      Bob Hillstrom

      6 years ago

      Very well written article….I stand and applaud

      Reply

      SV677

      6 years ago

      Pure and simple: If you don’t want your intellectual property stolen, then don’t do business in China. I find it interesting that OEMs complain about counterfeit products and their plans being stolen/sold but continue to do business with the same people.

      Reply

      Nick Aquilino

      6 years ago

      As a further point of interest a counterfeit golf club would be a China company not associated with Ping, making the same identical club with the Ping name. A copy would be making the same club and calling it a Pong club.

      Reply

      Chad

      6 years ago

      What are the golf clubs manufactured in the USA?

      Reply

      Nick Aquilino

      6 years ago

      Interesting article. Just about every country has established an Intellectual Property System that allows innovators and inventors and companies associated with these, a vehicle to protect the developments assuming the innovations are actually new. Unprotected products, referred to as “open” in the article, are normally in the public domain and therefore are free to use. It follows that just because a company produces and sells a particular golf club, does not mean it achieves the status of “intellectual property” unless there is a proactive effort to protect the same.

      If a golf head is not protected all a company need do is purchase the club in the open market, take it to another manufacturer and have it duplicated. The path from Prophet to Prowler is no real mystery. In fact all they had to do was tell the Chinese manufacturer to make the clubs with just a trade name change.

      Typically an inventor has a year from a first public disclosure, such as a sale or advertisement of the product, to file for patent protection. If no action is taken by then or if the essential novel features, including designs, are previously known, the particular product, a golf club in this example, is free to use by anyone who chooses to do so as the above article indicates.

      The complaint by the Hireko people that Lynx is using their golf club design structure likely would have no basis in a court of law. The same can be said for the Hatton design. It appears both these design structures are in the public domain.

      Taking this a bit further, most OEMs will do some sort of intellectual property investigation, usually a patent search, before committing substantial investment funds to bring a particular product, again golf club, to the market place. One need only look at a current situation involving the Parsons Company -PGR- and imagine the costs of a lengthy litigation. Better have deep pockets before it is all done.

      I can remember maybe 20 years ago or so, I was doing work for Adams Golf. At the PGA Merchandise Show following the introduction of the now famous “Tight Lies” club heads there were several exhibitors selling essentially the identical club head. We had some pretty good patent protection on the original upright trapezoidal shape and we notified these exhibitors and they eventually withdrew the offending club heads.

      This article also suggests that a particular design may not be traced to one clear source but there is a cooperative effort using several different inputs. Back to patents for a minute, most Patent Offices require that the individual inventors be included in any patent application. This often raises a question of when a minor change, such as a weight variation or different angle, is deemed inventive or merely a conventional manufacturing step or process. So it can be seen there is no clear set of rules with the questions raised in this article. The bottom line is there better be some sort of intellectual property in place to have any chance to maintain an exclusive position in the marketplace, particularly if the product is good, and then there is no real guarantee. Hope this has been helpful.

      Reply

      John Barba

      6 years ago

      Awesome input Nick – thank you for sharing!

      Reply

      Richard Lin

      6 years ago

      Nick, you’re dead on. We spend many man hours in the design of a product, but at the end of the day, we do realize that the market we’re serving is relatively small, so it was an active decision not to spend tens of thousands of dollars on design patents in the US and overseas.

      Are we happy somebody else is using our design? Of course not. Are we going to do anything about it? No.

      As an aside, I’m personally not convinced it was our foundry that leaked the design. This is a CNC milled cavity on a blank forged iron, there’s no tooling involved. More likely, somebody in another foundry saw it, thought it was cool and simply decided to copy it. If that were there case, even though the cavity design is the same, the products wouldn’t necessarily play the same.

      George Johnson

      6 years ago

      Makes you wander if Taylor Made, Callaway , Titleist and the rest of the big name clubs are made were they say there made and maybe we are paying for irons that are no better then the knock offs

      Reply

      JSilva

      6 years ago

      Maybe we should bring back manufacturing to the US. There a lot of people who can use the work…just sayin’

      Reply

      Bobtrumpet

      6 years ago

      One of the best articles I’ve read here! Top rate. Thank you for writing, and MGS for publishing.

      Reply

      Rob C

      6 years ago

      Terrific piece of writing. Very well research and documented with info from industry experts and very heavy on the details.

      Golf Clap John!

      Reply

      RP

      6 years ago

      Interesting that 15 years ago the OEMs would have cried foul, well, knock-off, and now they’re shrugging their shoulders like it’s business. Well, part of the business anyway. … And admit that it’ll continue to be part of the business for the near future, I guess, until the OEMs, I mean major manufacturers, I mean major marketers, decide it’s more cost effective to allow the Chinese to do the designing in addition to the heavy lifting.
      And golf clubs will be golf clubs by name only, the brand on them means nothing, and even then the line will be so blurred that you won’t know if your Ping irons are made in Arizona or China.

      Oh wait, they already are…..

      I was saying this was going to happen with golf clubs when the copycat clubs were all the rage three decades ago, when CAD became the norm instead of pencil and ink designing (and files were exchanged with ease), and the OEMs were crying foul only to fall into the trap en mass – and it won’t be long until knockoff Ford trucks start sneaking across the border from Mexico, and knockoff Dodges start leaking out of Canada, because nothing is really made in the U.S. anymore.

      But it’s what we as consumers have asked for, and just not known it. … By demanding cheaper prices, while expecting more whistles and bells. … And the name brands try to satisfy us while maintaining and growing their bottom line so as to remain profitable.

      Look at literally any so-called “Made In America” product you can buy today, and while assembled in the U.S. almost all of them note they’re put together using “globally sourced products/materials.”

      Wait another 20 or 30 years and things will really be sideways.

      Reply

      RP

      6 years ago

      Oh and John, great article.

      Reply

      strokerAce

      6 years ago

      I’d be curious what it’s like to buy golf clubs in China. Do the major OEM’s even sell over there or is there so little controls in place it would be too damaging to their brand? Can you get a set of TailorMade, Collaway, Cubra, etc and compare them to something that looks nearly identical to the ‘real’ version they sell in the US ? (I’ve seen this with LOADS of Nike stuff)

      Also – I kind of get it when your talking about bladed irons as there isn’t much you can add to it, but what about cavity backed irons that have weights moved all over the place, foam injected inside, etc. Externally they may look like the same iron but once you open it up maybe it is completely different on the inside?

      Great research and info … It’s a good thing Lynx didn’t get a hold of a model from a company that had an army of lawyers else they’d be in a world of trouble…or, maybe not, since they understood it was an ‘open’ model ??

      Reply

      indyvic

      6 years ago

      Aren’t Tour Edge clubs still made in Illinois? And how about Ben Hogan clubs?

      Reply

      John Barba

      6 years ago

      Assembled, yes, Created, forged or whatever? No.

      Reply

      HDTVMAN

      6 years ago

      The “new” Hogan company went under recently.

      Reply

      John Barba

      6 years ago

      Last year – they’ve been back since mid-2017 as a direct to consumer company. So technically, you’d probably call the current edition the new new Hogan company…

      Regis

      6 years ago

      I still believe the best forged irons ever produced were MacGregor. Nicklaus became a part owner but left the company when it decided to move it’s forging/manufacturing out of the US. If you view your clubs as a personal choice it makes a difference. If not it doesn’t matter who’s brand is on it

      Reply

      Clawrence

      6 years ago

      Great Article, John. There is a tsunami of proprirtary product copies available for virtually everything US OEM’s source from China. Additionally, China’s internet piracy is largely responsible for world class proprietary designed machinery and equipment not even made in China to be copied and produced in China, and sold very cheaply worldwide. Golf club heads are very easy to copy/produce and sell to unscrupulous sellers. The solution is to make it in America.

      Reply

      Txgolfjunkie

      6 years ago

      I’m shocked that counterfeit products are coming out of China!

      – No One…Ever.

      Reply

      DDRYAN

      6 years ago

      Thanks, Great Article John. This story is the same, but worse, in information technology. As China (PRC) has grown beyond the cultural revolution of the 1960’s and beyond Mao’s little red book to become a world power (both economic and military), they have been following the script that was written by two mid level officers from the Peoples Liberation Army in the late 1990’s. After watching the US and allied forces destroy the Iraqi Army in less than 100 hours, two senior Colonels wrote a book called “Unrestricted Warfare” (literally “War beyond bounds”) to address how the PRC could develop their capacity to a near peer competitor to the US. The book, an excellent read, can be found here https://www.amazon.com/Unrestricted-Warfare-Chinas-Destroy-America/dp/1626543054

      This book addresses much more than conventional warfare, it also stresses the ability to compete in manufacturing, engineering, science, technology and research, and this has become the blueprint through which China has risen from a primarily agrarian society into a manufacturing and behemoth. Almost every electronic device you buy today has parts or the entire thing manufactured in China. And regarding technology, if you want it manufactured and sold in China, you basically sign away your intellectual property rights – you give your source code to the manufacturer as a cost of doing business-
      This does not mean that there is no originality coming out of China. On the contrary, there is great research, development and experimentation going on, which has the potential to help with the great challenges of the day- my handicap being one of them- I write this only because manufacturers should understand the environment into which they send their intellectual capital, and be able to make risk informed decisions as to what to share and why.

      Reply

      Chad

      6 years ago

      Are any clubs manufactured in the US? I’ll be more willing to pay PXG prices if you can tell me they are made in the USA!

      Reply

      D.A.

      6 years ago

      China Boys figure out how to put flubber on the club face I’m all in. In reality we are talking about knockoffs. I had a friend that would buy knockoff club heads and shaft them for fun. Guitar Manufacturers have been fighting this issue for a long time. Fender, Gibson, Prs and Gretch to name a few. Your purist are always going to buy a Made in USA Fender over a made in Mex. Fender even knowing that Fender puts their name on these MIMex Guitars. There is a market for cheaper made guitars and Fender throws in a little quality control and makes the bucks. My question is, are the major golf brands shipping club heads and shafts to other countries to be assembled? Good luck Lynx, ur gonna need it.

      Reply

      John Barba

      6 years ago

      Wow, you do you know your guitars! The gist of this article isn’t really about fakes or counterfeits (although the subject was touched on). When it comes to Lynx, they bought what they believed was, and were told was, an open model. It’s not a fake or a copy of anything, but the interesting part is how it may have gotten from the foundry that made it for Hireko as a patented product to the foundry that sold it to Lynx as an open model. Most OEM’s, even major ones, have at one time or another sold an open model as part of their premium line – the only think “fake” about that would be if the OEM claimed it was their own design.

      As far as shipping club heads and shafts to different countries to be assembled – most of the production stuff you see is most likely manufactured and assembled overseas, although many OEM’s do assemble domestically – some, such as Cleveland/Srixon/XXIO, do virtually all of its assembly here while others, such as Wilson, only do their custom assembly here.

      Reply

      Huh?

      6 years ago

      John – I can’t help but think that your reply here engages in a bit of lawyerly verbal jujitsu. The logic being that just because someone is told that they are buying an ‘open model’ doesn’t mean that what they end buying isn’t a copy. It technically may not be an exact duplicate, but by all standards, it’s a copy plain and simple.

      That being said, your article is excellent and very informative and reveals the glaring cultural differences that exists between our two nations. It’s like Captain Kirk meets the Borg Collective and now the poor captain can’t quite figure out what to do as he slowly becomes completely assimilated.

      The other part that is so glaringly obvious is that you don’t really know how to best make something unless you actually make something. This is why collaboration between designers and CAD jockeys with the actual manufacturers who know the subtle ins and outs of quality manufacturing processes is so crucial in manufacturing a top-notch product.

      John Barba

      6 years ago

      I guess I was looking at it from an intent point of view. Lynx did not “copy” the product, but you are correct in asserting the product Lynx was sold is, in fact, a copy of the Dynacraft Head.

      My point is Lynx didn’t do anything shady or wrong. They believed – and still insist – that what they bought is an open model, as in open to anyone. How it became an open model – now that’s where it gets interesting ;-)

      Thanks for the kind words and the comments. And Star Trek/Borg references? Outstanding!!

      And it was Picard that was assimilated ???

      Jon

      6 years ago

      You’re right about the guitar market suffering a similar malady. I can’t afford the high-end Made-In-The-USA models, however I’ve had very good luck with second-line instruments. To your point about Mexican Fenders…I bought a MIM Stratocaster right after Fender moved production across the Rio-Grande (I’ve heard that you can see the Mexican production facility from the factory in Brownsville, TX), and it’s made of parts fabricated in the USA…It’s essentially a USA Strat assembled across the river. Fender did nothing to hide this or call it anything but cost-cutting…This is akin to Golf OEMs designing components and outsourcing the production to the lowest bidder that, hopefully, deliver the specs needed…A different tale is of my Washburn HB-35…A beautiful, very well made, great-sounding instrument…I purchased it brand new, and, while I knew it was made in China, I made a discovery that made me scratch my head…I decided to upgrade the saddles (apologies to non-guitar folk) and discovered when removing the bridge that the “Washburn” bridge was stamped “Epiphone”!! A completely unrelated company…This is equivalent to the “open model” issue described in the article, and made me feel a bit duped…

      Reply

      HDTVMAN

      6 years ago

      Bottom line, stay with the companies you know, and if you have a question, call their 800 number. Fakes are growing from China, and now you buy and new “old” brand and find that it’s an old club with old technology.

      Reply

      dcorun

      6 years ago

      Great article John. I do have a question, does the golf industry expect an increase in golf equipment due to their close working relationship with China and Trump’s tariffs?

      Reply

      John Barba

      6 years ago

      Don’t really have any hard info on that question DC – but we’ve all seen price increases in other industries, particularly HVAC, due to possible tariffs.

      Reply

      KansasKing

      6 years ago

      Great article. This type of research and information is what got me interested in MGS. Keep up the good work.

      Reply

      Brian

      6 years ago

      +1, Do more of this. This type of information is what sets you apart.

      Reply

      DirtyDan206

      6 years ago

      I actually thought those Lynx looked okay! Glad to know now I can buy the older Dynacrafts for pennies on the dollar!!

      Reply

      Matt

      6 years ago

      LOL, just checked the exact same thing. Lynx online are GBP675 5-P (~$910). Hireko are out of Dynacraft 5 irons, but still has 6-P. It appears with the same grip and on a TT shaft they will come in about half the price. Get em while you can I guess!

      Reply

      Pinhi

      6 years ago

      This is really easy to fix. MADE IN AMERICA

      I operate a foundry in the US and although we don’t make golf clubs, many of our customers have jumped ship to China for a cheaper part that eventually gets stolen and ends up costing them more in lost revenue.

      Reply

      Dan

      6 years ago

      Ive tried on multiple occasions to source heads in the United States, US factories are not interested in the golf business or trying to compete for the golf business

      If I contacted 10 factories in china to a new design all 10 would get back to me in less than 1 day

      If I contact 100 factories in the US – I will get less than 5 responses.

      Dan Peck
      Vice President
      Diamond Tour Golf
      [email protected]

      Reply

      HikingMike

      4 weeks ago

      Thanks for your input!

      Vern

      6 years ago

      John, once again your article extremely informative and answers questions maybe before they are even asked about various technical aspects of the golf industry. Keep your fabulous articles coming.

      Reply

      steve

      6 years ago

      outstanding story John. your best work for MGS yet. thanks.

      Reply

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