Product Managers Prepare To Do Battle Over Golf Balls

by drjim on May 21, 2018

The world of golf balls turns out to contain a great deal of combat

The world of golf balls turns out to contain a great deal of combat
Image Credit: likeaduck

When you think about the game of golf, what do you think about? If you are like me, you probably picture Tiger Woods hitting a golf ball, those very pretty greens that everyone plays on, or maybe even a nice set of golf clubs. However, it turns out that the world of golf contains some major product battles that have nothing to do with any of these things. It turns out that to product managers, golf is really all about golf balls.

A Story About Dimples

So what do you really know about golf balls? If you’ve ever had a chance to take a look at a golf ball, then you probably noticed that they have dents in them that are called “dimples”. These dimples are put into the ball in order to help it travel farther and more accurately. There are a number of different companies that manufacturer golf balls using the same basic product development definition. The market leader is a company called Titleist. They are the biggest manufacturer and their premier product is the ProVI.

The world used to be simple. Titleist sold their golf balls and they told the word that they were offering the “number one ball in golf”. There were other golf ball manufacturers, but nobody was as big as Titleist. However, then the retail giant Costco started to offer their own branded version of golf balls under its Kirkland Signature brand. This would have been just fine if it were not for the fact that the Costco golf ball got a favorable review in a popular golf magazine against the Titleist ProVI. For Costco product managers, this would be something to put on your product manager resume.

The reason that this is such a big deal has a lot to do with price. The Costco balls sell for $29.99 for 24 balls. This comes out to be $1.25 per ball. In the world of golf balls, this is a pretty cheap price. Meanwhile, the Titleist ProVI sells for $4.00 per ball. As you can see, if golfers believe that the Costco ball is as good or even better than the more expensive Titleist ball, then they are going to go out and buy the Costco balls. This is exactly what they did – Costco very quickly sold out of their golf balls.

How Product Managers Protect Their Golf Ball Products

So what do you think the product managers at Titleist did? Their market share was under assault by a large retailer who could sell their product for less than half of what Titleist was selling their product for. It turns out that the world of golf balls is ruled by patents. The joke in the industry is that every time another divot is added to a golf ball, a new patent is filed for. Titleist has a large collection of patents. What their product managers did was to go to court and claim that the Costco ball violated 11 of their patents.

The Titleist product managers did not stop there, they also filed a claim against the Costco product managers that said that they had engaged in false advertising. This was based on a statement that Costco had made in which they say that their Kirkland signature golf balls “…meet or exceed the quality standards of leading national brands.”

The Costco product managers have fired back by filing their own lawsuit. They are asking the courts to defend their business practices. They did this because of a “threatening letter” that they had received from the Titleist product managers. Costco felt that they had to do this because Titleist is named in over 2,577 patents that relate to golf balls.

What All Of This Means For You

The world of golf is filled with competitors who like to face off against each other on the fairways. However, it turns out that behind the scenes there is another battle going on. The world of golf balls is ruled by one company, Titleist, and they don’t like it when someone tries to invade their turf.

The very large retailer Costco has introduced their own brand of golf balls. These golf balls sell for less than half the cost of the top end Titleist golf ball. A major golfing magazine compared the two balls and the Costco ball came out on top. When this happened, there are a stampede by golfers to go to Costco to buy these balls. Titleist was not happy about this and so they have filed a lawsuit saying that Costco has violated some of their over 2,500 golf ball patents. Costco has reacted by filing their own court order to get the court system to approve their business practices.

Clearly within the world of golf balls there is a battle going on between two warring sets of product managers. Costco has created a product that threatens the market position of the Titleist balls and so the company’s product managers have taken a look at their product manager job description and decided to try to use the court system to make the Costco balls go away. Costco is going to try to use the court system to get approval for the way that they sell their balls. We’ll have to see how this all works out in order to see if anyone can get a hole in one.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that Costco was right to file a court order to get their business process approved?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As a product manager, you want to be able to get your product out in front of as many potential customers as possible. However, this is something that sometimes your company can’t accomplish all by themselves. When you realize this, you often start to look for a partner – somebody who can help change your product development definition and introduce you to more potential customers. This is a great idea, but these joint marketing relationships don’t always work out…

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