GolfNow tee booking firm to 'double' Northern Ireland workforce
Golfing legend Arnold Palmer would be "very proud" of the success of a Belfast-based course booking system as it looks to expand its Northern Ireland workforce and global reach.
Mike McCarley, president of golf at US broadcast giant NBC Sports, was speaking at the launch yesterday of the new £1.1m top-end offices of GolfNow, at City Quays in Belfast Harbour.
Belfast brothers Brian and Rory Smith formed BRS Golf in 2003, allowing courses to offer discounted rates for tee times booked online. It was then sold to GolfNow, part of NBC, in 2013.
Since then, it's grown its Belfast city offices to 71 staff. But its founders say it could double that number over the next couple of years.
It's also planning to expand to Australia and South Africa.
The Smith brothers are now vice-presidents of the company.
Mr McCarley said: "Their (the Smith brothers) dream was rooted in the same entrepreneurial spirit that Arnold Palmer had about what Golf Channel could be.
"He would be very proud of this, and that this is happening, especially as we are looking at The Open championship at Royal Birkdale where he won."
Arnold Palmer, who died last year aged 87, was one of the game's greats - winning majors on seven occasions. He was also the founder of the Golf Channel.
"This office represents the pride that all the employees put into their work every day," Mr McCarley said of the Belfast operation.
GolfNow plans now to expand into its modern offices, which include putting greens, a golf simulator and pool tables.
"We know the business will continue to grow and that is something that is important," Mr McCarley added.
He also praised economy development agency Invest NI for helping the firm expand here.
GolfNow has had a 33% surge in sales across Ireland in the last year.
The firm generated sales of more than £500,000 across 230 courses in Ireland in 2016.
It offers more than 3.5 million registered golfers more ways to book tee times online and through mobile devices.
It has its head offices in the US, but Belfast looks after the main international markets outside North America.
BRS Golf founder Brian Smith said: "We are delighted that we did sell the business at the time, and it was the right decision. It has changed things - you go from being an owner to working for a big corporate organisation.
"But they have effectively given us autonomy to continue running the business. We still feel like owners.
"From a staff point of view, we had 17 including Rory and myself, and now we are up to 71.
"The office here is designed for 140. We did our business plan last year, we did a five-year projection of getting up to 140."
Rory Smith added: "GolfNow have chosen Belfast as the international headquarters. Brian is working at getting into the Australia market. We are moving into the Australia and South Africa market.
"Then we have the whole of Europe to go after."
Invest NI chairman Mark Ennis said: "Since its acquisition of BRS Golf in 2013, GolfNow has experienced unprecedented growth, which is a testament to the drive and focus of the management team, the quality of talent that it has been able to recruit here and to Northern Ireland's reputation within the global technology sector.
"These new offices highlight GolfNow's longer term commitment to Northern Ireland.
"I know the team at Invest Northern Ireland will continue to work closely with GolfNow to help support it with its future plans."