Name brands vs. clones
In the SUV market we have the Ford, Chevrolet, Nissan, Toyota and a host of others. Each of these companies takes the best features the market has to offer and incorporates them into their cars. They all do this legally, ethically and with great vigor. It is a game of leapfrog.
While we sometimes find it hard to distinguish one SUV from another, we know they are not exact copies of each other and that these companies are not trying to confuse the consumer into thinking so. But we also know the SUV makers copy the same features, performance characteristics, and customer benefits from one another in a marketplace of continuing innovation. It happens in the golf club market too.
The most popular name brand companies in golf today are Callaway, Ping, Titleist, TaylorMade and Nike, with several others typically coming in and out of favor. These companies leap frog each other with innovative new product concepts, materials and fashion statements. When talking generically about golf clubs, most consumers describe products in terms of general product families. It's like when auto consumers say that Hyundai has a "Mercedes look", or that Mercedes "looks like a Land Rover." Well, it is the same thing in golf.
What is a Golf Clone? Well it used to be a club that was made to look as close to the name brand version but in a completely legal form. Clones have been popular in many industries; computers come to mind as do software programs. Over the years as branded clubs steadily changed, so have the "Clone Clubs". Clone clubs are simply clubs that have a similar look and feel as the branded product.
Clones are not to be confused with the branded products they may seek to flatter. They are however made from essentially the same materials and design principles, use many of the same shaft and grip suppliers, and perform similar to (or often better than) the name brand products when a good clubmaker matches the player charatereristics with correct components.
After all, we're dealing with material and physics, things that are public domain or naturally occuring. Nobody has a patent on the automobile wheel, likewise its tough to patent the fact that using Titanium allows you to make a bigger volume golf club head and you can't patent the colour black.
Like the car companies who copy the idea of offering a feature like dual air conditioning, club manufacturers might create a similar head with a low centre of gravity or adjustable weights and shafts. The insert might look different but the purpose/functionality is the same. The majority of the savings in comparison to the name brands comes from things like little or no branding/advertising and no big Tour Pro endorsement budgets. The major companies probably do spend lots of money on R&D to come up with the next sellable craze like shaft inserts, adjustable weight etc and the so called clone makers might copy those ideas but implement them slightly differently. In the end swapping a shaft or moving weight is just like the decision to use a 16" or 17" wheel in your design offering. Its not illegal.
The important point to focus on is to buy heads, shafts, and grips sourced from the same small community of golf manufacturing suppliers who make products with similar material like Titanium in woods and not "Titanium Alloy" (which is essentially tin). Or Irons and Putters made with 431 Stainless Steel (and not Zinc). What I offer are clubs that have been selected to offer a similar feature list and feel to the name brand versions, using similar materials and often the same specified shaft and/or grip, but at a price the average guy can afford.
Are Some Golf Clones Illegal?
Illegal/counterfeit clubs have been a significant problem in the golf industry for many years. The name brands talk about illegal clubs ripping them off, but counterfeiters also rip all of us off as well! No one should buy products from an illegal counterfeiter. An illegal knockoff and/or counterfeit club is a product that violates trade dress rights, trademarks, patents or copyrights of another company.
A counterfeit club is illegal because it confuses the consumer and in some cases seeks to fool the consumer into thinking their product is actually the Name Brand Company's product - often blatantly copying a logo or trade name. It rips all of us off because we play by the rules and lose business to shady operators who fool consumers into thinking they are buying a legitimate product.