Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Smith brothers sell e-tee website BRS Golf

Rory and Brian Smith set up their firm after finding it hard to book tee times
Rory and Brian Smith set up their firm after finding it hard to book tee times

Two brothers from Belfast who grew up steeped in computer science thanks to their academic father have sold their golf software company to one of the world's biggest businesses.

Brian (43) and Rory (46) Smith are fanatical golfers and computer whizzes who married their passions through their tee-time booking system, BRS Golf.

It was one of the earliest web-based applications for business use -- and now its clients include 290 out of 400 golf courses around Ireland.

Now the company -- which the Queen's graduates founded around 10 years ago after being made redundant by North American telecommunications firm Nortel -- has been snapped up for a substantial sum by GolfNow, a division of the Golf Channel, itself owned by US cable giant Comcast.

The deal was finalised last month, bringing BRS into a global stable which includes NBC Channel -- and happily, its European headquarters will remain in Belfast where both Brian and Rory are continuing to work for the firm.

The amount of the deal has not been revealed -- but Brian said the successful sale was "a dream come true".

After taking redundancy from Nortel, he was eager to get web development experience so offered to develop Ardglass Golf Club's website.

"Then we went to Belvoir Golf Club and met the manager and said: "The website's pretty rubbish, can we redesign it?"

"But what she said was that what they really needed was a really good tee-time management system to let members and visitors book online.

"She said none of their suppliers were offering that at the time. I couldn't believe it -- but me and Rory had been playing since we were nine years old and it was a real pain trying to book tee-time.

"You would have to phone a number which was always engaged and hit redial, redial, redial until eventually you got through."

The brothers rapidly realised all clubs would be in the same boat: "We saw an opportunity, started working on it and have never looked back."

As part of the deal, they no longer own the business they set up, though Brian will remain as vice-president of European sales and Rory as vice president of technology.

The new owners are now taking BRS Golf and launching it in the US before using the Belfast base to bring the product to golf courses around Europe.

Brian said the company will be seeking talented software developers and they plan to increase their staff numbers from 19 to 35.

Pioneering father who saw that future was computers

For the Smith family, there was more than just a love of sport passed down from father to five children. Jack Smith is a retired professor of computer science at Queen's and computers were part of family life even in the 1970s.

Son Brian, the co-founder of BRS Golf along with brother Rory, said: " I can remember being in the building with the first computers in Northern Ireland. Dad eventually became dean of the faculty, and I can remember from the day I was born the very first computers were in the house.

"All five of us except my sister work in computers.

"I remember we had an early Apple at home and I remember a £1m computer at Queen's.

"Dad really pushed us into computers from a young age and he realised that was the future."

Now BRS Golf is set for expansion through its new owners Comcast, a Fortune 100 business which also owns TV and radio network NBC in the US.

NBC comedy 30 Rock, starring Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin, satirised the corporate world with the real-life takeover by Comcast reflected in NBC's takeover by fictional Kabletown on the show. With a direct link now established between a Belfast company and 30 Rock, business life in Northern Ireland really can be stranger than fiction.