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Psst… Wanna Buy Some Clubs?

Golfers spend millions a year on counterfeits and knockoffs. To find out how this burgeoning industry works, we went right to the source: southern China

The trap, months in the planning, had been laid. The quarry, a beautiful Chinese businesswoman named Lily Wan, had taken the bait. The sting, code-named Operation Tiger Lily, a joint venture of Callaway Golf investigators and the Orange County ( Fla.) sheriff’s office, was about to take place.

The site chosen for the meeting was symbolic of how brazen the sellers of counterfeit golf clubs had become. It was the lobby of the Rosen Centre Hotel in Orlando, host city of the biggest, most prestigious golf show in the world. Large and small clubmakers, component dealers, importers, distributors, wholesalers and retailers, not to mention journalists and club pros, congregate at the PGA Merchandise Show every January to admire, sample and network, trying to get a handle on the Next Big Thing. This year they also commiserated. The boom times are over in the golf business. The low fruit has been picked from the boughs.

Except in Lily Wan’s end of the business. Counterfeiting has been on the rise for about a decade, ever since U.S. golf companies began subcontracting club production to China. Of the major manufacturers, only Ping still makes most of its clubs in the U.S. The other big brands—Callaway, TaylorMade, Titleist, Cleveland, Nike, Adams, Cobra—make most of their clubheads in China, in an area just north of Hong Kong called the Pearl River Delta, where the combination of cheap skilled labor and technical expertise has created manufacturing’s Perfect Storm.

“It’s a no-brainer to be there,” says Chip Brewer, CEO of Adams Golf. “The Chinese produce golf clubs of consistently high quality at unbeatable costs. They are very good capitalists, creative and hardworking. But that same entrepreneurial spirit also creates other issues.”

Issues like theft of intellectual property. “Where you have legitimate manufacturing in China, you will always have problems with counterfeiting,” says David Fernyhough, a former Hong Kong police officer who is a director of the private investigation firm Hill & Associates. “It’s worse now than it’s ever been.”

Counterfeiting is so ingrained in the Chinese business culture that the perpetrators seldom feel they’re doing anything wrong. They make and sell products—CDs, clothing, toys, electronics, golf clubs—more cheaply than the brand-name guys, offering consumers a comparable product at a lower cost. What’s wrong with that? Plenty, according to the U.S. companies that spend millions in research and development to design the products being copied. For starters, Article I of the U.S. Constitution gives inventors exclusive rights to their “discoveries.”

Lily Wan was a new name in a game with endlessly rotating players. A private investigator in the United Kingdom suspected Wan’s firm, Hong Kong Cedar International Investment, Ltd., of shipping counterfeit Callaways to Europe and informed the club manufacturer. So when the sleuth learned that Wan would attend the PGA Show, Callaway’s security director, Stu Herrington, began plotting with the investigator’s company, Intellekt, to shut her down.

Intellekt set up a dummy corporation, Servitrade, Inc., which purported to represent 400 sporting-goods stores in the U.S. and Canada. Then Herrington enlisted the help of detective Ray Wood of the Orange County sheriff’s office, who posed as a Servitrade executive. They contacted Wan to say they were interested in placing an order. They’d be in Orlando for the show and wanted to see some of her products. She promised to meet them on Saturday night.

She arrived looking like a Bond vixen: 5’2″, 105 pounds, stylish and attractive in her dark tailored suit. She exchanged business cards with Herrington and Wood, and after brief pleasantries she laid counterfeits of a Callaway ERC II driver, a Great Big Bertha II and a Steelhead X-16 iron on a coffee table, in plain view of anyone strolling past. The men examined the copies carefully. “In China everyone knows they are not real,” Wan said.

“The Great Big Bertha was a very, very impressive copy,” says Herrington, who has been tracking down the Lily Wans of the world for Callaway for the past five years. “She gave us a price of $33 a head, delivered, or $32 with a volume discount.” A generic graphite shaft might cost an additional $6; a grip, 50 cents. Total outlay: $38.50 for a first-rate copy of a club that retails for $499. Wan even volunteered to blacken the soles of the clubs with water-soluble paint to hide the Callaway trademark. Servitrade could simply rinse off the paint once the clubs cleared customs. She also asked about the best routes to smuggle the clubs into the country.

While Herrington is loath to reveal specifics of the conversation, he and Wan discussed the fact that many golf club counterfeiters fly their shipments to Vancouver or Toronto, then truck them into the U.S. Another method, according to U.S. Customs officials, is transshipping: sending the merchandise first to a country not associated with counterfeit golf—say, the Netherlands—thus avoiding the red flag that cargo from Taiwan or China might raise. Counterfeiters also smuggle club components in containers filled with legal goods, such as ceramics or auto parts. Or they simply list their cargo as something else on the shipping bill, playing the odds that it will get through amid the mass of foreign goods flooding U.S. docks. Six thousand containers a day are shipped to the U.S. from Hong Kong, according to U.S. Customs, and only 2% are physically inspected.

After an hour or so of such banter, Herrington and Wood identified themselves to Wan. “She insisted she’d done nothing wrong,” Herrington recalls. “When we asked her where the clubs were made, she claimed she didn’t know. She said some Chinese man named Joe had come up to her with the stuff on the streets of Hong Kong.” Herrington confiscated the samples, and Wood delivered a stern lecture to the distraught Wan on the penalties she I could face. In the end, though, he let her go, and she bolted. Although trafficking in counterfeit goods is a felony, “it’s difficult if not impossible now to prosecute,” says Wood, because so much attention is focused on combating terrorism. Two years ago Wan might have been put behind bars. Today, Wood notes, ” U.S. law enforcement has bigger fish to fry.” Still, from Herrington’s point of view the sting was a success. “We really scared her,” he says. “She’s never coming back here.”

Others are, though. “Now that so much legitimate business has moved to China, the counterfeit market can’t be stopped,” says Ken Gaul, the U.S. Customs agent who spearheaded Project Teed Off, which resulted in 14 indictments and the seizure of $6 million worth of counterfeit golf merchandise in 1999. “At this year’s show in Orlando, I saw an Asian man taking pictures of a golf club from several angles. Everyone knew what he was doing.”

Those photographs, industry experts say, could have been digitally transmitted to a tooling factory in China, converted into three-dimensional form by means of a computer program and used to create a copper master of a head that could be ready for mass production in two weeks. “It takes us over a year to design a new club, using sophisticated computer programs that require the expertise of very experienced engineers,” says Barney Adams, founder and chairman of Adams Golf. “If the club’s a success, copies are on the market in 60 days. It’s reprehensible. To get into the copying business, all you need is to take a couple of drivers and irons you like, fly to Hong Kong, and voilà, you could be in the knockoff business tomorrow.”

How much all this costs the golf industry is difficult to gauge. According to the National Golf Foundation, U.S. consumers spent $2.8 billion last year on golf clubs, some 70% of which came from China. If only 10% of those sales involved illegal knockoffs and counterfeits—some experts believe that figure might be higher—that would amount to $196 million.

Jethro Liou is an expert in the knockoff business. A boyish 25-year-old Californian, he has been selling golf clubs since he was 15. After school he would make cold calls for his father, Ren-Jei (R.J.) Liou, asking pro shops and discount stores if they wanted to order from his line of clubs. R.J. owned Kent Graphtec, an importer of club components from Taiwan and, later, China. He’d have the components assembled at his warehouse outside of Los Angeles and would distribute them to retailers all over the U.S. “The golf business was so good between 1991 and ’97, you could sell anything,” Jethro says. “We were one of the first companies to import from China.”

Kent Graphtec dealt primarily in knock-off clubs, products with names such as King Snake and Big Bursar—simulations of the popular clubs King Cobra and Big Bertha. “The customs people thought my father was [the primary distributor of] King Snake, which in its heyday had something like 10 percent of the market,” Jethro says, “but a lot of people were importing that product.”

A lot of people eventually got in trouble for it too. “There are different levels of counterfeiting,” says Debra Peterson, a U.S. Customs official who was involved in Project Teed Off. There is the direct counterfeit, which is a dead-on copy that carries the legitimate product’s trademark, and that’s illegal. Also illegal is a club that is very close to a direct copy and is termed either “confusingly similar” (if it infringes on company trademarks) or “substantially similar” (if it infringes on design patents). What is legal is the generic look-alike that does not infringe on a company’s trademarks or patents. Some features of a driver—its head size, for instance—cannot be protected, while others can. But with confusingly or substantially similar knockoffs, the line between legality and patent or trademark infringement is often fuzzy and is subject to legal challenge and interpretation. A counterfeiter tries to alter a company’s protected features just enough to avoid prosecution. Whether the result is illegal can be established only in court, on a case-by-case basis; in other words, the aggrieved company has to sue.

Callaway threatened to sue Kent Graphtec over its Big Bursar driver, alleging patent, trademark and trade dress (trademark design) infringement. In 1997 R.J. Liou reached a settlement with Callaway. Four years later, in March 2001, the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles ruled that R.J. Liou, Kent Graphtec and Trophy Sports—a separate company started by Jethro and his mother, Yeh-Chyn, in late 2000—had breached the settlement by continuing to sell Big Bursars. The court ordered the defendants to pay $20,000 in damages to Callaway and to turn over their inventory of more than 11,500 infringing components for Callaway to destroy. According to Jethro, the family’s legal fees for the discovery phase alone came to more than $1 million.

By then, Nehru’s parents had divorced, and Jethro had fallen out with his father. Kent Graphtec officially went out of business, though R.J. is now back in business on his own, according to Jethro.

The market for knockoff clubs, meanwhile, remains huge and lucrative, and Trophy Sports is a major player in it. Trophy’s Integra line offers look-alikes of several major clubs. In February, TaylorMade sent Trophy a cease-and-desist letter alleging design patent infringement, and Trophy agreed to stop importing and selling the Integra Bomber 880 driver, a knockoff of TaylorMade’s Burner 420. Jethro Liou says he spends $10,000 a month on lawyers’ fees. Lawsuits are just part of the cost of doing business.

Liou also represents a dozen club-makers, importing for a long list of Internet dealers and discount retailers, including Kmart. All told, Liou says, he sells a million golf clubs a year—roughly equivalent to TaylorMade, which sold 89,282 clubs in March. And recently Liou bought a Mexican foundry, Cast Alloys, which he is disassembling and relocating to China.

A graduate of Cal-Berkeley, Liou is fluent in Mandarin—one of the two major dialects in southern China—and Taiwanese. A recent three-day swing with him through the Pearl River Delta provided a rare look inside China’s burgeoning golf industry.

Liou Flew into Hong Kong on Feb. 6, during the Chinese New Year celebrations, and from the airport he took a bus to Dongguan, an hour and a half to the north. Dongguan is one of China’s industrial meccas, a city of 1.4 million people where private enterprise flourishes. Workers flock there from poor farms in central China, providing cheap labor for manufacturers that have relocated to Dongguan from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and the U.S. The bus passed miles and miles of factories, many operating 24 hours a day to satisfy the appetites of Western consumers.

One of the factories was the Unimold Manufacturing Co., Ltd., which sent a car to meet Liou’s bus. Unimold is a tooling factory, the first stop in golf club construction after the club is designed. According to Rob Duncanson, an attorney for several brands, including Titleist, Cobra and TaylorMade, the tooling factory is also where the manufacture of counterfeits begins. “The R&D department of a company in California comes up with a new design for a club and must transfer that proprietary information to the vendor,” Duncanson says. “The company doesn’t own the vendor. It has a contractual relationship with him. The company says it will pay X dollars to turn this design into a master, from which a tool will be made. The tool is used to mass-produce the clubhead. The problem is, there’s no control over the proprietary design when it gets to China. There’s a six-to eight-week period during which they develop the master and send samples back and forth for approval, and things can happen.”

Unimold, which has been in Dongguan for five years, employs 60 workers. They work 12-hour days, seven days a week, and are paid about $100 a month, plus room and board, according to the manager, Hu Gui Dong. During Liou’s 45-minute visit, Unimold’s workers were hand-tooling masters for a set of Tommy Armour irons and a Mizuno driver. On an open shelf on the wall were copper molds for some of Unimold’s other customers, including Dunlop, Spalding, TaylorMade and Adams. Unimold charges $1,200 for a copper master of a driver. This is the intellectual property of the company that designed the club, but in this tooling factory there are no security guards, no surveillance cameras and no metal detectors to prevent a worker from lifting a copper master. On the street, Liou estimates, a finished copper master of a brand-name club might fetch $10,000—more money than any of these workers could expect to see in a lifetime.

That afternoon Liou made a call on one of his biggest vendors, Unitech Golf Co., Ltd., a casting company on the outskirts of Dongguan. It’s a medium-sized operation by China’s standards, employing 200 people and cranking out 100,000 to 130,000 clubheads a month for 10 to 20 little-known companies, such as Akia, Echelon, Pax and Velocity. This may be Knockoff Central, but the care that goes into the construction of each clubhead is mind-boggling. There are 200 steps involved between the tooling and the shipping of a head. The wax has to be mixed, injected, cooled and trimmed; the casts have to be scraped, welded and polished; the heads have to be taped, painted, stacked and inspected. Fifty to 60 workers touch every clubhead as it is made—a clubhead that at the end of the day might be sold to Liou for $4 or $5. There are no paid vacations or sick days, no worker’s compensation or maternity leave. And if orders fall off, the owner can let a worker go with one day’s notice. Modern Communist China, it turns out, is a 19th-century industrial capitalist’s dream.

Five years ago, said Jimy Wang, the owner of Unitech, the land around his factory was farmland. This area is called Tangxia, and it is home to 20 factories that make both legitimate and illegal clubs. Since February 2002 the population of Tangxia has doubled, to 400,000. Security measures are much more elaborate at Unitech than they are at the Unimold tooling factory. The front gate is locked and manned by armed guards. There are five security officers among the company’s 200 employees, not to mention surveillance cameras overlooking the factory floor. Still, Wang admitted, no security system is foolproof. Wax molds have a way of vanishing out the backdoor. “Every factory experiences theft,” he said.

Wang, dressed stylishly in a black designer T-shirt, black pants and a belt with a gold buckle, is relatively new to the golf business. His capital came from his other line of work: a karaoke bar that he owns in Dongguan. Karaoke bars in China, as in the States, have microphones and music, but many of them also provide customers with prostitutes. (Wang insists that his bar does not.)

Another line of capital for some illegal club manufacturers may come from Chinese triads, or crime syndicates, which have long been suspected of using some foundries to launder money from prostitution, drugs and gambling operations. “They are involved, guaranteed,” says Fernyhough, the private investigator who spent 14 years working for the Hong Kong police pursuing the Chinese mafia. “Golf clubs are a high-markup item, and anything that has a high margin in it, they will be into.”

Xiamen, a city of 655,000 people on the South China Sea, is across the Formosa Strait from Taiwan. Its port is the 10th largest in the world in terms of volume of goods shipped to the U.S., and many Taiwanese businesses have moved there since mainland China opened itself to foreign investment. Many of those businesses are golf-related. “Ten years ago 70 to 80 percent of the counterfeits and illegal knock-offs were made in Taiwan, and only 20 to 25 percent in China,” says Callaway’s Herrington. “But since 1992 or ’93, when the Taiwanese government began to enforce intellectual property laws, and Taiwanese labor costs rose in relation to China’s, those percentages have flip-flopped. Now 70 to 80 percent of the counterfeits come from China, financed by Taiwanese investors.”

Theft of intellectual property is illegal in China, but its prosecution is selective. A counterfeiter might be arrested after failing to pay off a government official or after a U.S. company protests so vehemently that an example must be made. And if convicted, the worst punishment a counterfeiter suffers is a modest fine.

Yarn-Way Enterprise Co. is one of the companies that relocated to Xiamen from Taiwan. Yarn-Way makes graphite shafts, producing some 450,000 a month, and Liou is one of its most valued customers. Liou flew to Xiamen on his second morning in China, and Yarn-Way sent a car to meet him at the airport. He gave Andy Zhu, the sales representative who handles his account, a long triangular cardboard box he had carried all the way from the States. Inside was a TaylorMade wedge. Within minutes a graphics designer at Yarn-Way had downloaded the logo from the TaylorMade shaft onto a computer screen and was making minor design and color alterations to it. He incorporated the word Integra into the logo and then submitted it to Liou for approval. The altered logo would be applied to the graphite shafts Yarn-Way was making for Liou’s Integra line. “All you have to do is make a few changes to keep anyone from suing you,” Zhu said of equipment that walks the fine line between what’s legal and what’s not.

In the afternoon Liou visited another of his vendors, the Aetenshun Casting house, where Ram, Tommy Armour, Hippo, Dunlop, Maxfli and Integra club-heads are made. The factory is far out in farm country, where bicyclists laden with boxes of vegetables pedal incongruously past Aetenshun’s guarded iron gate. Along one wall of the factory’s formal conference room was a display case of the dozens of clubheads made by Aetenshun. As Liou surveyed them, he picked out two TaylorMade driver heads, casually identifying them as counterfeits. The manager of the factory feigned disbelief until Liou pointed out an imperfection in the lettering and noted the hollow sound emitted from the head when he pinged it. The manager, recovering, said that now he remembered. Those two TaylorMade heads had been a gift. He couldn’t remember who’d brought them.

“The company that really should have its antennae up now is Nike,” Liou said later. “It’s a hot brand with an expensive product, and it’s new to the business.”

Mike Kelly, the business director for Nike Golf, says one of the steps the company has taken to discourage counterfeiters is to put ultraviolet markings on its shafts, so U.S. customs inspectors can identify them as legitimate with the wave of a black-light wand. Serial numbers are engraved on the hosels too, and according to Kelly, Nike plans to put a serial-number checking system on its website.

Such a system would certainly have helped Scott Fong, a computer engineer in Rocklin, Calif., who logged onto eBay last summer and purchased what was described as a set of new Callaway X-14 irons. His winning bid? A hefty $725, for clubs that would have cost $1,040 at retail. When the irons arrived, they were in their original packaging, individually wrapped. But Fong, a 16 handicapper, noticed some slight imperfections in the CALLAWAY lettering. Worried, he took the irons to the practice range and discovered that he had more trouble than usual hitting them straight. When he compared them with Callaway demos at the clubhouse, he found that his clubheads were slightly larger than the demos’. He contacted Callaway, which put Stu Herrington on the case.

Fong sent Herrington the clubs he’d bought, and Herrington confirmed that they were counterfeits. The seller, who was from Toronto, was eventually raided by Canadian police, and his eBay auction was shut down. But how many other buyers had he hoodwinked? And what about the dozens of other eBay sellers who peddle illegal knockoffs? “We took down 618 Internet auctions in 2002 and 60 in the first six weeks of 2003,” says Ken Parker, corporate counsel for Callaway. “Not a day goes by that we don’t deal with it.”

All of which has raised the cost of legal clubs. Who’s the victim of counterfeiting? The legitimate manufacturer and, of course, the consumer. “Our product development group spends one third of its time studying other patents and establishing and enforcing our own patents worldwide,” Nike’s Kelly says. “Plus, we constantly monitor the Internet. Then there’s the cost of adding the serial numbers and ultraviolet codes and of establishing a serial-number checking system. All that gets passed on to the consumer.”

Why, then, do all those U.S. clubmakers continue to use Chinese foundries, whose track record in protecting intellectual property rights is so horrendous? “If we didn’t, your $400 driver would cost $1,000,” says Barney Adams. “Making a golf club is still very labor intensive. We understand the risks of doing business over there. We do the best we can to minimize them, and we move on.”

One of the most significant breakthroughs in golf club production in recent years has been the use of titanium, notably in drivers. Titanium is stronger and lighter than steel, enabling manufacturers to make ever larger clubheads with ever bigger sweet spots that propel the ball ever farther. Most of the titanium in golf clubs comes from Russia or northern China, and most of the foundries that work with it are in or near Guangzhou.

Only a two-hour drive or 90-minute ferry ride from Hong Kong, Guangzhou is a city of 3.8 million people and about 100 golf manufacturers, if you count the makers of accessories such as bags and shoes. But only seven foundries in the city work with titanium, which requires a significant investment in specialized equipment.

One of these foundries is Maxwin Golf. Its owner, David Chiang, is Taiwanese. He moved to Guangzhou in 1989, becoming the second golf manufacturer in the city. Between 1991 and 1997, he made good money. Since then, business has been spotty. Many deep-pocketed, publicly traded companies from Taiwan have moved to this part of China, and competition has been fierce. Fortunately, Chiang said, he started a karaoke club on the side, where, with 60 girls, profits are more reliable.

Chiang, wearing a counterfeit Versace jacket with Adidas buttons, conducted a tour of his factory for Liou but said the third floor of his plant was, unfortunately, off-limits. Something that no one was allowed to see was going on there. Outside, firecrackers were popping, salutations to the Year of the Ram. Inside, all that could be heard was the rhythmic booming of a machine that stamped sheets of titanium into silvery cutouts that would be used for the faces of drivers.

“Any company that makes things in China will experience theft,” Chiang said. “Employees make so little money, they’re always going to steal and sell molds on the open market. In Guangzhou alone there are three factories that do nothing but make counterfeits and copies. We have our employees line up after work, and we search them. We have metal detectors at both of our entrances and security cameras at all the work stations. If they’re caught stealing, they’re fired, and I’ll call the police. But it won’t ever stop. The copy and counterfeit market is too large.”

Callaway was so concerned about security at the Fu Sheng company, its main manufacturer in China, that it sent Herrington there three times in 2002. He offered a bonus equivalent to a year’s salary to anyone who turned in a coworker for theft. He also made sure that Callaway clubs were manufactured in their own building, separate from the building that made Nike’s clubs. Despite these and other safeguards, wax molds of the newest, hottest clubs still disappear. “We cannot guarantee 100 percent against theft,” said Fu Sheng’s president, P.Z. Lin.

“That’s a joke,” says Midi Liu, laughing at the notion of any guarantee. Liu, a Taiwanese, was one of those arrested in Project Teed Off in 1999. After spending four months incarcerated in the U.S., he was deported and now lives in Taipei. Liu still exports Chinese-built clubs and components, but to South Korea. “Sometimes a security guard cooperates [with thieves],” Liu says. “I could get 300 Nike heads this week. I could get Titleist. The Chinese government has said it’s cracking down on counterfeiters because of pressure from the U.S. government. But they look with one eye. China just wants to make money”

When Callaway learned that a foundry in Guangzhou, Shunde Jackson Precision Industries Corp., was wrongly representing itself to customers as an authorized Callaway manufacturer, Herring-ton began an investigation. It’s a frustrating endeavor. “We’re running a big investigation there, and it’s pretty unsatisfying,” Herrington says. “I can spend $100,000, invest three to six months hiring investigators in China to follow trucks and gather evidence of wrongdoing. We file an affidavit with the Chinese anti-counterfeiting authorities and stage a raid. But the counterfeiters are back in business within a week. The fines and forfeitures are minimal. They’re happy to pay the fines as a cost of doing business.”

So, for the first time in a decade, there are rumors that some U.S. companies are rethinking their involvement in China. Callaway is believed by some of its competitors to be considering a move back to Mexico, a rumor that Callaway’s senior vice president of global press and public relations, Larry Dorman, doesn’t dismiss out of hand. “We continue to explore relationships with other vendors, but that decision will be made on the basis of quality and price, not security,” he says. “Wherever your vendors are located, there are issues with intellectual-property theft. Proximity does not mean better security.”

Others have simply thrown up their hands. “When it finally dawned on me what the culture was over there,” says Barney Adams, whose company will continue to make its clubs in China, “I realized we were never going to win this war. Most golf companies are losing their asses right now. One of the fallacies about golf is that we’re an industry. We’re so busy trying to cut one another’s throats, we don’t cooperate. Callaway wouldn’t dream of working with Taylor-Made. If we pooled our knowledge and resources, we’d have a lot better chance of fighting [counterfeiters].”

The final stop on Jethro Liou’s three-day tour of his vendors’ facilities was Deson Golf Sport Co. Ltd. in Shunde, a suburb of Guangzhou. This factory, too, works with titanium. It had 13 tons of it stacked in a locked storage room. One hundred sixty people work at the plant, which is clean, modern and well-lit, churning out 40,000 heads a month for Pinseeker, Knight, Ram, Dunlop, Pro Select and other companies. About 500 models of clubheads are on display, there for a client’s inspection.

Liou stopped during the factory tour and lingered over one clubhead. It was the mold for something called a Power 420. The model that Liou sells to Kmart is called the Super 420, which is also made at the Deson factory. The lettering, size and scoring on both club faces were identical. Liou called over the president of Deson, a man named Su Hiao, and in a moment rich with irony, complained that the Power 420 appeared to be a direct knockoff of, and confusingly similar to, the Super 420 (which is a knockoff of TaylorMade’s 300 Series drivers). Liou had planned to order as many as 30,000 Super 420s every two months to keep Kmart supplied. Why would Hiao risk losing that?

Smoothly, with Èlan, Hiao dismissed the Power 420 as a one-of-a-kind sample. He couldn’t remember why it had been made or what it was doing there. He’d be sure to find out, after he finished with the tour.

Asked if he thought the golf industry in China would ever consolidate, Hiao smiled and shook his head. “If one factory is taken over, another one will be born,” he said. “Everyone in China wants to work for himself, to be an entrepreneur. Workers save their money, pool their resources, buy a polishing machine, and all of a sudden you have a new factory.” In the past four years two of Hiao’s managers had left to start finishing factories.

Could his factory, he was asked, put a logo—any logo—on a golf club? Say, a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED logo? “Absolutely,” he replied. “We can do almost anything here.”

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    Joe Gidvilas


    I bought a set of Integra single length iron heads on ebay from a USA company. They seem to be reputable with a 100% rating on ebay. I asked them if they could hand pick the heads for the correct loft and lie angles and they said they would. I received the heads and checked them on my loft and lie machine and sure enough they were out of spec. I bent them all back to spec, but they wouldn’t hold the bend. I bent them a second time and am waiting to see if they will hold the bend. These heads cost me close to $20 a head and I can see that it’s going to be an expensive experiment. So to any buyer of heads made in China beware.

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