Golf tee-off booking firm proving global hit for Belfast brothers
An innovation developed by two Belfast brothers is helping golfers tee off around the world.
Technology experts Brian and Rory Smith reflected on an idea first hatched in a local golf club 14 years ago as they opened new £1.1 million offices in their home city.
Their software enabling golfers to book tee-times online is now being used internationally, particularly in the US and Canada, as a consequence of their acquisition by GolfNow - a company operated by US TV network NBC's Golf Channel.
GolfNow's investment has seen the Smith brothers' workforce in Belfast more than double to 71 employees and paved the way for Tuesday's opening of the office space in the City Quays complex.
Brian Smith, who sold his house to finance the business - called BRS Golf - in its early days, said the journey since 2003 had been "incredible".
"We could not have even dreamt of being at this stage - it's just unbelievable," he said.
He first came up with the idea when having a chat with the manager of a local golf club about the effort needed to keep on top of phone calls from members and visitors wishing to secure a slot on the first tee.
He added: "We reckon we were one of the first in the world to develop an online tee sheet management system that allowed members and visitor to go on and book online."
The GolfNow operation in Belfast now partners with more than 75% of golf courses in Ireland and the UK, and has facilitated the booking of more than 700,000 rounds so far in 2017 and more than 2.1 million rounds in the last three years.
Mike McCarley, president of golf at NBC Sports, was in Belfast to open the offices.
Noting that golfing great Arnold Palmer helped found the Golf Channel, he speculated the late sporting superstar would have approved of the technology developed in Belfast.
Mr McCarley said: "He would be proud of this and what's happening.
"What we had was two brothers from Belfast who believed in a business and believed in a concept."
Both before and after the acquisition by GolfNow, the Smith brothers have received financial backing from Stormont business development agency Invest NI.
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."