Nike admits Woods doesn't use balls that he promotes

Posted: Wednesday, August 23, 2000

SAN FRANCISCO -- Tiger Woods endorses ''Nike Tour Accuracy'' golf balls in TV and magazine ads, but he really plays with custom-made balls unavailable to everyday duffers, Nike acknowledged Tuesday after being sued in federal court.

Nike Inc. said the balls used by Woods, who is one of the longest hitters in golf with 300-plus-yard drives, have a slightly harder inner and outer core than the balls sold to the public.

''Those two elements are slightly firmer than the marketed ball,'' Mike Kelly, marketing director for Nike Golf, told The Associated Press.

Kelly said it's common practice in the golfing world to sell the public different products than what the pros really use.

''It's an industry practice to make minor specification changes to golf products: irons, putters and golf balls for tour players,'' Kelly said. ''Slight specification and modifications need to be made to their equipment for their game.''

But other leading names in golf say their customers get exactly what their pros endorse.

Joe Gomes, a spokesman for Titleist, of Fairhaven, Mass., said its players use the same products they advertise. And if a player uses a ''tweaked'' version of a club, he said, a consumer could special order it.

''We are very particular about our advertisements. We don't make any claims that cannot be substantiated in both golf balls and clubs,'' Gomes said.

Callaway Golf of Carlsbad, Calif., said that if one of its golf pros says he uses a certain club, that identical club is available retail. Spokesman Larry Dorman did say, however, that in February, one of its golf balls had a different number of dimples on it than the ones its pros used.

That occurred, he said, because Callaway was awaiting approval of the new ball by the United States Golfing Association, so the company's pros were briefly forbidden from using it in tournaments.

''We used a prototype with a different number of dimples,'' Dorman said. ''As a result, for a very short period of time, there was a little bit of a lapse from what was being marketed. We were very up front about it.''

Woods' agent, Mark Steinberg, did not immediately return a call requesting comment on the lawsuit.

In the suit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, a nonprofit group called Public Remedies Inc. claimed Nike, based in Beaverton, Ore., was engaging in unfair business practices. It asks that Nike's ''ill-gotten gains'' be restored to the public.

''Tiger Woods does not play the Nike Tour Accuracy golf ball, but instead plays one with a different composition and performance characteristics specially made for him ... and not available to the general public,'' the suit said.

The group did not return repeated calls for comment.

Woods officially switched to the Nike Tour Accuracy ball before the U.S. Open, the first of his three major championships this year. The move officially ended a marketing conflict between Woods' top two golf sponsors -- Nike and Titleist -- that began last year when Nike entered the ball market.

Titleist argued that Nike was using Woods to promote golf balls because of two commercials -- one that showed Woods bouncing a ball off his wedge, and another that showed hackers on the range belting 300-yard drives as soon as Woods showed up.

Titleist contemplated a lawsuit, but instead reworked Woods' deal so that he was paid only when he used Titleist equipment in tournaments. Titleist also gave up its right to have its logo on his bag and to use Woods in advertisements.



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