Golf Ball Battle Begun By Behemoth Businesses

On Facebook some of my Swedish golf colleagues are talking about an American lawsuit.  Acushnet, the maker of the Titleist golf ball, is counter-suing Costco, the wholesale giant.

Kirkland Signature Golf Ball

The Costco Ball

Costco brought out last year its Kirkland Signature ball. It had a four-piece, urethane-cover product similar in construction to many tour-caliber balls. The price was an eye opening $15 a dozen. A cult-like buzz around the ball ensued. It flew off the shelves. But Costco could not keep up with demand and ran out of the product.

There was talk that the Kirkland Signature ball would not return. Costco officials promised that the ball would be back in stores in Spring, 2017.

But the ball’s cult popularity rubbed some the wrong way. Like Acushnet, the makers of Titleist golf balls. They sent Costco a letter alleging false advertising because of its Kirkland Signature guarantee. It says the ball will “meet or exceed the quality standards of leading national brands”. They also said that the Costco KS ball infringes on 11 patents of Titleist.

The Kirkland-based corporation hit Acushnet with a declaratory judgement. It establishes that Costco is not guilty of false advertising.  Nor does it violate Acushnet’s patents, because the patents are invalid to begin with.

The suit notes reviewers compared the more expensive “tour quality balls” to Costco’s. Costco “has never in publicly compared the KS ball with any Acushnet ball.”

  1. This is no gimmie for Costco. Declaratory judgements like Costco’s are usually a preemptive strike. A lawsuit to stop a lawsuit. Acushnet has been down this road before. The Korean company holds more U.S. patents in golf ball technology than any manufacturer.  They have a history of defending their patent portfolio, even through years of litigation. Invalidating patents is never easy. And going against a company with the intellectual property and the guns to back it up makes it that much harder.

Acushnet says “over half of the Kirkland Signature Golf Balls cracked or became unsound before the testing by Acushnet concluded.” Acushnet also claimed that the KS golf ball travelled less distance than the KS ball. These distance tests were with drives of 130, 140, 150 & 167 mph. A bogey golfer (18 HCP) can hit 130 mph. As the vast majority of golfers will never hit those speeds, why the stink by Acushnet? (see chart)

In the summer of 2016, I played golf in Oregon with a friend who had the prototype of the Costco KS golf ball. I saw no difference in his game using the KS ball. It wasn’t damaged in anyway. Jim plays to a sub 12 HCP. He liked the way the ball played.

Let’s face it, all the hullabaloo is about money.  A dozen Pro V1 or ProV1x go for around $45-50 a dozen in the States. If you could get a ball that “almost” acts like the $4.00 ball, what would you choose? I can lose that $4 ball just as fast as one for $1.25. And, like most golfers, I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

Costco is the second biggest retailer in the world behind Wal-Mart. They have over 700 warehouse stores world wide. Over 500 are in the USA alone. Costco seems ready to tee off with this lawsuit. Now it’s Acushnet’s turn to file an answer to the suit.