Fake sporting equipment threatening Georgia jobs

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The website is among more than 200 others named in recent lawsuits filed this year by five golf manufacturers. Mizuno is not part of the court cases, but the company is part of the effort.

MARIETTA, Ga. - Some of the biggest names in sports gear are on the offensive against Chinese counterfeiters, and Channel 2 Action News has learned how Georgia is one of the battlegrounds.

Channel 2 consumer investigator Jim Strickland dug into how the flood of bogus equipment can cost you money and can threaten Georgia jobs.

Larry Rountree of Marietta anticipated hitting plenty of smooth shots with his fancy new driver and three 3-wood. They're Rocket Balz models from California golf company TaylorMade.

"I was very excited. Brand new clubs. Saved about $300 getting them. So yeah, it was like a kid at Christmas time," Rountree said.

He bought his clubs online. Now, the driver head is totally loose, and after only two dozen range hits with the 3-wood, the club face has caved in.

"They were a piece of junk," Rountree said.

Consumer investigator Jim Strickland brought the clubs to the PGA Tour Superstore in Kennesaw and showed them to expert club technician Clay Bruce.

"So you can tell without even looking at the club heads that these are fake?" Strickland asked Bruce.

"Yes," Bruce answered.

Bruce pointed out cheap head covers, an outdated grip design and inconsistencies on the shaft markings. The club heads themselves were not titanium like the real thing.

"Very, very inexpensive metal," said Bruce as he tapped the head with a pen, producing a hollow, "tink, tink, tink" sound.

Rountree bought the clubs at a website called discountgolfprice.com.

They came in the mail with a packing slip made out nearly entirely in Chinese.

His cheap imitations not only threaten his game. Each bogus transaction is a sale lost at retailers like the PGA Tour Superstore.

"This is hurting my job, this is hurting all of our jobs. Anybody in the golf industry, that's killing it," said Bruce.

The national PGA Tour Superstore chain is Georgia -based. There are 200 employees in the metro Atlanta area, and the company will have 1,000 nationwide by year's end.

Mizuno USA is fighting the fakes, too. They are located in Norcross and home to the golf assembly operations for all of North America.

"We have 250 employees in this building, and back here in manufacturing, we're at 35 to 40," said Pritchard Hollowell, Mizuno's manager of custom clubs, as he showed Strickland around the company.

Research and development manager David Llewellyn showed Strickland a counterfeit 5-iron turned in by a disgruntled customer. The look-a-like lacks Mizuno's quality chrome plating. The head design is also is not up to specifications.

"If you're not buying the real McCoy from Mizuno, or one of our authorized retailers, then obviously it's hurting the entire Mizuno and also this manufacturing group," Llewellyn said.

The website Rountree used to buy his TaylorMade knockoffs also lists Mizuno among its bargain offerings.

The website is among more than 200 others named in recent lawsuits filed this year by five golf manufacturers. Mizuno is not part of the court cases, but the company is part of the effort.

"It's our job to get that stuff off the market. We take it very seriously,; quality is one of the main stays at Mizuno, and we don't want to jeopardize that," Hollowell said.

Rountree convinced PayPal to refund his money, after which a man with a foreign accent called him in a threatening tone.

"Larry, please return all the items. You owe me money. Son of a b----," the man said on the message recorded on Rountree's cellphone.

Instead, Rountree gave Strickland the clubs instead to display on Channel 2 Action News.

 "Actually, I'm just trying to help other golfers out there that may get taken," Rountree said.

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