—Andrew Miller, Intern, Fast Horse Inc.

In terms of name recognition, PING is to golf what Louisville Slugger is to baseball, so you’re right if you found it odd Apple would name its new music-based social network, of all things, Ping.

Apple is no stranger to trademark litigation after wrangling with Cisco (“iPhone”) and Fujitsu (“iPad”), but it reached what seems to be a mutually beneficial agreement with Karsten Manufacturing Corporation/PING Golf before product launch. Ping (the social network) hit one million users in its first 48 hours, despite generally poor reviews due to a confusing interface and lack of Facebook integration. Give it time – Ping will catch fire.

On Sept. 1, the day Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced Ping at the Apple Special Event, Karsten/PING issued this highly opportunistic press release:

This announcement involves two companies that were founded by visionaries who created products that greatly impacted their industries.  Karsten Solheim invented the PING® putter in his Redwood City, California garage and went on to revolutionize the golf equipment industry.   The groundbreaking first Apple® computer was developed in nearby Palo Alto in 1976.

‘We are pleased to enter into this agreement with Apple,’ said John Solheim, Chairman and CEO of Karsten Manufacturing Corporation and PING.  ‘Like PING, Apple carries a reputation for innovation and quality.  I have always had great respect for companies that have changed and improved the ways things are done and I continue to model PING along those lines.  Apple is a truly great example of this kind of enterprise.’

(As an avid golfer and Mac addict, I can’t help but fantasize a golf club-meets-mp3 player hybrid. It’s not as crazy as you might think.)

Give Solheim credit for not only entering agreement with Apple, but also seeing it as an opportunity to strengthen the PING brand. Often, trademark agreements are based on one of two concerns — avoiding consumer confusion or maintaining the integrity of a brand. In allowing Apple to use the “ping” name, PING actually improved its own brand.

PING is a privately held company, so there was no concern over investor fallout. Will it spike late-season golf sales? Maybe not. The point is golfers love new technology and innovation, and they’re willing to spend thousands to keep their golf bag stocked with the latest and greatest equipment. PING got paid to associate its name with one of the world’s most respected personal technology brands.

Talk about a tap-in.