The Ping fine is incredibly harsh – no wonder they'll contest it

Golf Equipment

The hefty Ping fine for blocking online sales comes down to their belief in custom-fitting process – and surely they have a point

The £1.45 million Ping fine seems very unfair to me – let me explain why.

Here at NCG, we are big believers in the custom-fitting process when it comes to golf clubs.

We carry out equipment tests all the time. Some brands send samples in our custom-fitted specs, some don’t.

We give everyone the option and we encourage them to send is custom-fitted gear. That’s because I think it has become clear over the years that we are often left wondering how much better a product might have performed had we been properly dialled in.

Of all the brands we deal with, Ping are right up there for making sure we only test products of theirs in our exact specs.

Ping believe strongly in custom-fitting so they can give their consumers the best possible version of their product.

Ping fined

You wouldn’t buy a pair of football boots that were roughly the right size, would you? You’d want to try them on first. You know that a 10 in an Adidas isn’t quite the same as a 10 in a Puma.

You’d at least want to know if you needed a thicker pair of socks for the perfect fit.

So it comes as no surprise to me that Ping have decided to challenge a £1.45m fine imposed by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) for preventing two UK retailers from selling its golf clubs on their websites. The specific offence is that Ping “broke competition law”.

Ping fine

Ping have said they “profoundly disagree” with the decision.

Their stance is that you can’t get custom fitted over the internet. They don’t want their consumers to be using Ping clubs that are not going to help them ‘play your best’, as the company’s long-time strapline put it.

From their perspective, this is not about restricting the retailer’s ability to trade, which is what the CMA say it amounts to. Rather it is about ensuring the consumer gets the right product for them. It’s hard to be critical of that.

“Our Internet Policy is an important pro-competitive aspect of our long-standing commitment to custom fitting,” read Ping’s statement.

“This ensures the customer is fitted in person, something which cannot be achieved in an online environment.”

So basically Ping have been saying no to extra business because they don’t want consumers buying their products without being fitted in person.

Pardon my ignorance, but surely a company should have that right? It’s their right to ensure that the consumer gets the best possible version of their product.

Ping have a very proud history. They are a brand built on values and principles. Their chairman would not sign off on a new driver if it went further but was less forgiving.

They are certainly not going to take this ruling laying down and that should come as no surprise.

They will be appealing the CMA ruling and will be keeping their current internet policy in place during the appeal process.

“Personal face-to-face service is the key to realising the full value and performance designed and built into every Ping club,” their statement continued.

“Our custom fitting innovations, including advanced processes, tools and training methods, allow millions to better enjoy the game of golf.”

This is not the first time Ping have stood up to the regulators.

They sued the USGA and PGA Tour for $200m after their Eye 2 clubs were deemed to be illegal for having square grooves.

An out-of-court settlement was reached – after it was proved the clubs were not in fact illegal. Still, Ping agreed to stop producing the Ping Eye 2 irons with a groove pattern ruled too wide by the USGA.

So whether or not the CMA have done their homework on the Ping fine – they should be prepared for a fight.

They are looking to make an example of Ping and are using this ruling to warn other manufacturers about refusing to allow their products to be sold online.

“The internet is an increasingly important distribution channel and retailers’ ability to sell online, and reach as wide a customer base as possible, should not be unduly restricted,” said Ann Pope, senior director for antitrust enforcement at the CMA.

“The fine the CMA has imposed on Ping should act as a warning to companies that preventing its products from being sold online could be illegal.

“The level of the fine imposed on Ping reflects that the CMA found the breach of competition law occurred in the context of a genuine commercial aim of promoting in-store custom fitting.”

We’ll await the outcome of the appeal. But part of me thinks the CMA may have picked on the wrong golf equipment company.

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