Costco takes a stand against Golf Titan, Titleist

By: Eli Daniels

You can follow Eli on Twitter @the_bookof_Eli

The hottest golf ball on the market comes from a discount retailer, Costco.[1] In 2016, the wholesale club made a huge impact in the world of golf when it started selling its Kirkland signature golf balls.[2] Two dozen Kirkland golf balls sold for $29.99, or $1.25 per ball, which made them one of the cheapest on the market.[3] The golf ball created a frenzy and sold out immediately once it received positive reviews, being compared to the best-selling Titleist ProV1, which is priced at around $4.00 per ball.[4] The golf balls high demand also created a market for it on eBay.[5] Golf insiders termed it a “miracle golf ball” because of its great performance and low cost.[6] Unable to keep up with the high demand, Costco had to remove the Kirkland Signature golf balls from its website after the retailer sold out at the end of 2016.[7]

Following such success, Acushnet, the parent company of Titleist, sent Costco Wholesale Corp. a threatening letter.[8] It alleged that Costco infringed on eleven patents and engaged in false advertising when stating that Kirkland Signature golf balls meet or exceed the quality standards of leading national brands.[9] Costco quickly responded with a federal complaint filed on March 17, in U.S. District Court in Seattle. Costco’s complaint asks the court to dismiss Acushnet’s accusation, arguing that it never compared its Kirkland Signature golf balls to the Titleist balls, and in fact, claims of comparable quality are in fact true.[10] Costco states that “[m]any individual golfers and golf ball testers and experts have used and/or tested the Kirkland Signature ball and concluded that it is at least comparable to balls sold by other leading national brands, including Acushnet.”[11] The complaint references eleven patents that depict golf balls in a way that the average golfer would not even imagine. Specifically, Acushnet’s complaint claims that Costco is infringing on the curve of dimples in the golf ball and on the way in which the layers of the ball are adhered.[12]

Marc Reiner, a partner at the law firm Hand Baldachin Amburgey, remembers one his law school a professors describing golf ball manufacturing as a field saturated with patents. “As she put it, ‘[e]very time they add a new dimple, they go and apply for a patent.’”[13] Dean Snell, a former ball designer at Titleist and TaylorMade, stated the purpose of all the patents regarding golf balls is not to simply to safeguard the designs of balls currently on the market but mainly to prevent competitors from using new innovations in future designs.[14] He further added, “[i]n this industry, if you look at the amount of patents filed every day versus the number of golf balls actually made, it’s a ridiculous number.”[15]

From the looks of it, Costco is ready and willing to put up a fight over its Kirkland Signature golf balls, even if it is against one of the titans of the industry.[16] Over the years, Acushnet has repeatedly filed complaints as a means of shutting down smaller businesses trying to construct their place in the golf ball market.[17] David Dawsey, a golf and intellectual-property expert, writes “I can’t help but wonder whether Costco has any intention of seeing this through; after all, the cost of litigating the validity of eleven patents will be significant to say the least.”[18] Smaller companies who cannot afford the cost of litigation have been forced out of business by Acushet’s complaints.[19] For instance in 2015, Acushnet brought a lawsuit against five small golf ball manufacturing companies.[20] Businesses with financial means are able keep the market at a deadlock by strategically making it too costly for up-and-coming competitors to function.[21] Costco is venturing into the field of golf balls at time of decreasing interest in the sport.[22] The number of people playing the game of golf has diminished during the past decade, going from 30 million participants in 2005 to about 24 million in 2015.[23] However, by making golf balls less expensive, Costco is helping address the sport’s biggest hurdle in attracting a larger audience – expense.[24] As for Acushnet, it should not expect to easily push Costco around as is does smaller businesses. Golfers and shoppers everywhere should follow this battle closely.


[1] Brian Costa, The Most Coveted Ball in Golf Is From Costco, (Jan. 19, 2017, 1:43 PM).

[2] Id.

[3] Brian Costa, Costco Sues Titleist in Battle Over Golf Balls, (Mar. 20, 2017).

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Costco’s popular golf balls aren’t gone forever, (Jan. 26, 2017).

[7] Aimee Picchi, Costco takes a swing at Titleist over golf balls, (Mar. 22, 2017, 5:15 AM)

[8] Erik Matuszewski, Costco Takes On Titleist, A $3 Bln Investment In Golf, Pimento Cheese Shoes?, (Mar. 26, 2017, 6:00 AM).

[9] Id.

[10] Ephrat Livni, A lawsuit over Costco golf balls shows why we can’t have nice things for cheap, (Mar. 27, 2017).

[11] Aimee Picchi, Costco takes a swing at Titleist over golf balls, (Mar. 22, 2017, 5:15 AM)

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Ephrat Livni, A lawsuit over Costco golf balls shows why we can’t have nice things for cheap, (Mar. 27, 2017).

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Aimee Picchi, Costco takes a swing at Titleist over golf balls, (Mar. 22, 2017, 5:15 AM)

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

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