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CBS Sports

Friday, August 20, 2010

Company turning 'experienced' golf balls into big business
Knetgolf recycles every brand name golf ball   

 Pre-owned. It's a common term that used to be applied to something for sale that was "used." Like automobiles. And now golf balls.  

Knetgolf is a company that calls itself a "recycler and refinisher of premium, pre-owned, brand-name golf balls" that it sells at considerable discount compared to the regular price of new balls.
"We are a delivery system that meets a need in the marketplace," said Gary Shienfield, CEO of Knetgolf, which is based in Toronto. "Our niche is in providing quality golf balls for half-price."

Is there a market for used, er, pre-owned, golf balls?

According to Knetgolf, the outfit is on par to recover, refinish and sell 20 million golf balls in 2009 alone. That's 1,666,667 dozen, for those who need help with the math. Overall, the company says, golfers lose more than 1 billion balls annually.

Where do the balls come from, and how good are they?

Founded in 1995, Knetgolf has two processing plants: one in Arizona, the other in Toronto. The company has contracts with more than 2,000 golf courses and resorts to go in on a regular basis and recover "lost" balls. The bulk of the balls come from Arizona, California and Nevada.

"We canvass the desert, in the fescue, go into the water, frequently," said Shienfield. "Most balls we recover have been hit from one to 20 times. The average golfer loses 4.5 balls per round. Many of those balls have been hit only once."

Knetgolf says it has tested brand new balls against its pre-owned balls with an Iron Byron machine, and there is negligible difference. Even pond balls, which are recovered every two weeks in season, are fine. Shienfield says years ago, many golf balls were covered in soft balata and subject to water-logging, but modern balls have sturdy covers and are more durable.

Knetgolf subjects the balls it recovers and recycles to a proprietary cleaning process. All balls are inspected by hand, sorted into brands and subjectively graded. The company labels balls as Mint, A, B or C condition, which helps determine pricing.

Price comparison 
Relative prices of Knetgolf pre-owned balls vs. new brand name balls as listed by various golf specialty stores 
Brand Name  Knetgolf  Specialty store 
Bridgestone e7+  $19.99  $26.95 
Bridgestone Tour B330  $29.99  $42.95 
Callaway HX Hot  $11.99  $27.95 
Nike Ignite  $11.99  $24.99 
Nike One Vapor  $18.99  $29.95 
Pinnacle Gold  $16.99  $14.95 
Precept Lady IQ  $9.99  $19.95 
Srixon Soft Feel  $11.99  $19.95 
Srixon Z-UR  $23.99  $39.95 
TaylorMade Red/Black  $21.99  $42.99 
Titleist NXT  $13.99  $25.95 
Titleist Pro V1/V1x  $34.99  $45.99 
Wilson Staff Fifty  $11.99  $17.95 
Wilson Staff Zip  $14.99  $21.95 

"If we detect something that would affect performance in a ball, we don't market it," said Shienfield.

How do Knetgolf's prices compare to new balls? In a comparison of its Mint condition pre-owned products vs. average prices listed for new balls by several specialty stores (with the Knetgolf price listed first): Titleist Pro V1, $34.99/$45.99; Nike One Vapor, $18.99/$29.95; Callaway Hot, $11.99/$27.95; Bridgestone Tour B330, $29.99/$42.95; TaylorMade Red/Black, $21.99/$42.99.

Knetgolf offers 19 brands of golf balls, and many sub-models for each. And where X-Outs once obscured brand names, Knet makes the brand names clearly visible and part of its marketing pitch. The company says over the course of a season, a golfer could realize savings of more than $125 by purchasing pre-owned balls instead of new ones.

What do the major equipment companies think of this recycling?

"I'm sure they're not happy about it, but we're not doing anything wrong," said Shienfield. "We label everything as pre-owned. In some cases, we have golfers who want to buy premium balls and this is a 'test' process. They can try ours and, if they wish, move on to buy new balls."

As you might imagine, the slumping economy in the U.S. and elsewhere has been beneficial to the pre-owned ball business.

"Because of the economy, our business has soared," said Shienfield. "Golfers are still playing golf, but the days of 'I don't care how much I spend' have changed."

In addition to sales via its website (which also offers apparel and accessories), Knetgolf balls are available in 30-plus countries at mass merchant retailers, golf specialty stores and other Internet locations. The company also is growing its on-course pro shop distribution, to more than 300 locations now.

"There used to be a stigma attached to 'pre-owned' balls at the pro shop, but no longer," said Shienfield. "As long as it's a good-looking, consistent product that performs ... well, the ego is starting to come out of the game of golf."

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