GI Joe's, the Wilsonville-based sporting-goods chain with 24 locations across the Northwest, finds itself in the legal rough this spring for selling counterfeit golf balls.
Acushnet Company, which manufactures Titleist golf balls, is suing the chain for stocking and selling counterfeit Titleist Pro V1 balls. The suit was filed in May, after a consumer complained to Acushnet about the poor quality of Titleists he purchased at a GI Joe's outlet.
The company dispatched a private investigator to buy balls in Puyallup, Wash. Tests back at headquarters confirmed the company's worst fear: The balls were fake.
Now, Acushnet is suing GI Joe's in U.S. District Court for $1 million for each trademark violation plus other damages to be determined at trial.
GI Joe's doesn't deny selling bunkum balls but otherwise claims innocence through ignorance. A company spokesman says the chain wasn't aware its distributor was supplying bogus product.
"We bought them as first-quality balls and paid first-quality price," says Ron Menconi, vice president of merchandise for GI Joe's. Menconi adds that as soon as GI Joe's learned of the problem, it pulled all suspect balls from store shelves and sent them back to the distributor, Illinois-based Cam Golf.
No excuse, says Joe Gromes, a spokesman for Acushnet. GI Joe's is not an authorized Titleist dealer, so the chain must buy balls through the so-called "gray market."
"When you deal with the gray market, you run the risk of things like this happening," says Gromes. "We have to protect golfers who believe they are purchasing Titleist Pro V1 golf balls."