There are dozens of name brand golf club manufacturers marketing their clubs as the latest and greatest, newest technology, look, design, feel etc. Amungst all this hype, I find it difficult to determine which clubs will perform best for me. Having worked in the golf industry for several years, I know that I'm not alone in this. I've seen countless people struggling with the decision of which clubs are best. I've also learned that often golfers don't even care which clubs truly are best for their skill level, but rather which name brand they feel most confident with. So, how important is it to buy name brands? To complicate things just a little more, there are club manufacturers who create 'clones' of the mainstream clubs... How do they compare?
I've heard of people buying 'clone' golf clubs before but I didn't fully understand the concept. How does it work? Where do they come from? Is it legal to manufacture 'clone' golf clubs? I wanted to gain a better understanding of 'clone' golf clubs, and here's what I found...
Some Things You May or May Not Know
- Counterfeit golf equipment is NOT the same as clone equipment. Clone equipment is within the patent and trademark limits and for the reputable companies selling clones is 100% legal. You might also find it surprising that these clone designs are often approved by the name brand manufacturers before they are released.
- Nickent Golf actually started out as a clone golf company…yes Nickent. TourEdge also started as a component company.
- A few reputable clone companies online get their product made at the same foundry that a few large name brand companies get their gear made. (Yes that myth is true)
- There are basically 3-tiers of golf club manufacturing to make it simple. The top-tier which has a larger capacity and better quality makes the top brand names. The 2nd tier often makes some of the mid-size golf companies that a lot of you play but they also make some of the top components and clones for companies like Golfsmith, Hireko and Diamondtour. And the 3rd tier generally have the smallest capacity and make some of the lower end quality equipment and clones you run across.
- Counterfeits like we said are NOT the same as clones and the counterfeit equipment is often the cheapest and lowest quality equipment. You may wonder what the difference is between the counterfeit vs. clone. A counterfeit is a club design that purposely attempts to deceive you into believing it is the real thing. For example it will look identical to the name brand model and even have the same name (ex: Taylormade R11 will be on both soles and look identical). Clones fall within legal guidelines and do not have the same name, markings or overall design.
- Many clone companies and component companies offer product close in quality and performance compared to name brand equipment.
- For those that are dead set against clones…you should remember this….many name brand models are modeled after other companies designs as well. And some use the exact same molds.
- I will say this…often times the quality of things like welds, finishes and materials are not as good as the name brand model. But even this line is blurring with some of the reputable clone and component companies out there in recent years.
- Are there bad clones…YES. Are there bad name brand designs…YES. Are there clones that are made with poor quality…YES. But the same thing can be said about some of the name brand models as well. I have seen some things that would shock you about the quality of some of the BIG name brand models.
We found stats from several companies who have done laboratory testing, putting clones and name brands head to head. The differences between them, in every study, were... marginal. Here's a look at the results from a study done by MyGolfSpy.com, comparing the TaylorMade Burner with one of it's clones...
Distance: For each of our 3 testers, the “real” Burner was the distance winner. But I think it would surprise most to know that only by 5.8 yards (2.2%).
Accuracy: When it comes to accuracy the results are less cut and dry. If we simply look at the raw averages we see that the Clone was actually more accurate! The adjusted average numbers look even better for the clone as, with the 2 best and 2 worst shots removed from each tester, the clone is 3.5 yards closer to the center line on average.
Swing Speed: Perhaps one of the more interesting discoveries to come out of our testing was that club head design appears to play a legitimate role in producing, or perhaps limiting club head speed. For all 3 testers, the TaylorMade Burner produced measurably higher clubhead speeds than the clone. In fact each of our testers produced average speeds 2-3 MPH faster with the Burner. Looking at the group as a whole, we found that the Burner produced swing speeds that were on average 2.39 MPH faster than the “Heated” clone.
Ball Speed As you might expect, higher clubhead speed produces higher ball speed. With the Burner, our testers produced ball speeds that were between 2 and 6 MPH faster than with the Heated. As a group, ball speeds averaged a full 3.5 MPH faster with the name brand Burner.
Looking at the performance of all the case studies, there isn’t, in my mind, a clear winner. Some golfers place an absolute premium on distance while some on the other hand place a premium on accuracy. Though not conclusive, there is some suggestion that the clone could be the more accurate of the two.
What I do believe is a reasonable conclusion based on the totality of the numbers is that there is not a significant performance difference between the brand names and a reputable clone manufacturer. On performance alone, it’s hard for me to justify spending the extra hundreds of dollars.
Of course, as I mentioned in my intro, golf clubs are about more than performance alone. If it was that cut and dry we’d all be playing the same club. It’s not. Other factors, the subjective stuff…looks, sound, feel, etc. all play a role not only what we think of a club design, but also how we perceive performance.