Friday, March 16, 2012 | 2:41 a.m.
Tommy Thayer is the lone golfer in Kiss. He’s an 11 handicap, very good for any amateur player, and excellent for any rock guitarist.
But even Thayer is lost as to where to place his ball for the first-ever shot on the glow-in-the-dark, 18-hole Kiss By Monster Mini Golf miniature golf course.
“I think you put it there, in the middle,” says Jay Beckman, the director of golf at Southern Highlands, who is joining Thayer in a quick three-hole competition on holes 16, 17 and 18.
Beckman then points to a pad on the ground reading “16,” inlaid with three ball-sized indentations. He says to Thayer, “Try there, I think.”
Neither player knows where the hole is positioned, which is somewhere on the other side of the giant guitar placed a few feet in front of that pad. There is indeed a hole, painted day-glow orange, at the exit of the big instrument. The idea is to putt the ball through the mouth of the guitar … and hope for the best.
Thayer strikes the ball firmly. It vanishes in the darkened recesses of the guitar. Everyone looks at each other, then we hear the unmistakable “plunk” of a golf ball dropping into a cup.
“Hole in one?” Thayer asks. The astonished group of onlookers nods energetically.
“Wow!” Beckman says.
Longtime Kiss fans will find it appropriate that the first shot at the Kiss-themed golf attraction was indeed an ace, recorded by the band’s current Spaceman.
Thayer winds up taking Beckman, who oversees the course Thayer usually plays on his visits to Las Vegas, by two strokes over three holes — Beckman needed two shots just to cover the lengthy Gene Simmons tongue on the 18th and closing hole. That’s how it started Thursday afternoon at a crammed-with-VIPs opening event at Kiss By Monster Mini golf.
“I don’t take my golf as seriously as my music,” Thayer says upon finishing his abbreviated round. “Even the pros know not to take the game too seriously. If you do, you’re in trouble because no one ever masters golf.”
The Kiss By Monster Mini Golf attraction sits, appropriately, across from the Hard Rock Hotel on Harmon Avenue, just east of Rumor Boutique Hotel. All members of the band were on hand to usher in the opening, as were co-owners Christina and Patrick Vitagliano, but Thayer was the only Kiss member to actually swing a club.
“I’m the golfer of the band,” he says, “so I’m sure I’ll be asked to play this a lot.”
Gene Simmons was at once stoic and tolerant as he posed for photos and answered such questions as, “What is your favorite hole?”
His answer: “I have a lot of favorite holes.”
Later, Simmons said, “The idea is to see how this will do and maybe take it to other cities. I mean, look around. Isn’t everyone having fun?”
Yes. They are.
“Any Kiss fan from anywhere in the world will have a good time here,” he reasoned.
Paul Stanley said the band’s iconic visual qualities — obviously the members’ stage makeup and costuming and the universally recognizable Kiss logo — lends itself to nonmusic business ventures.
“We’ve had a lot of ideas, and the band is so visual, it was just a matter of taking some of those iconic images and designing something around those,” Stanley said. “It’s a natural fit, whether it’s the boots or the faces, or whatever we’re known for. Most of the ideas that were brought to us were thumbs-up.”
“I can’t imagine another band in the world being able to do something like this,” Thayer said.
The space is well-utilized, with the orange-and-red hued, glow-in-the-dark miniature golf course set far to one side and laden with giant boots, Simmons’ axe-styled bass, a pair of six-string guitars, an animatronic Kiss band (similar to the effect Chuck-E-Cheese uses for its automated music act), and, of course, the Simmons-designed head with the famously long tongue as the closing hole. A uniquely Vegas touch: Painted on a wall facing the course are Las Vegas icons wearing Kiss boots, among them Oscar Goodman, Wayne Newton, David Copperfield, even Elvis.
Also folded into the attraction: A “Hotter Than Hell” wedding chapel, a fully outfitted Kiss-fashioned arcade and a gift shop brimming with Kiss-licensed souvenirs.
Maybe one of those keepsakes will be the very ball Thayer drained to open the course.
Wait. That’s still in my possession …
More notes from the opening:
• Band members were coy about plans for its upcoming tour, saying to expect an announcement next week. But Vince Neil has already told my colleague Robin Leach that Motley Crue and Kiss are planning to tour together this summer, from July to September.
Thayer did offer that he really enjoyed the Crue’s performance at the Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel in February, saying, “Motley Crue is one of my favorite bands,” and added that Kiss would be interested in entertaining such a monthlong residency at some point. “It would have to be way over the top, but we’re a band that does things over the top anyway. We know no boundaries.” But scheduling such an engagement among the four band members would be “challenging,” Thayer said.
Stanley said the tour would stop in Las Vegas but declined to specify which venue. When asked about the tour reports, Simmons simply pretended to lock his lips shut.
• A couple who bid $15,000 on eBay for the right to be the first to be married at the attraction’s wedding chapel were thrilled at the ceremony, which was attended by all band members (Stanley and Simmons were invited to stand with the wedding parties). The joyous occasion was officiated by Las Vegas’ busiest little person, Brian “Lowercase g” Thomas, who is in fact an ordained “mini-ster” presiding over his first nuptials.
David Howard and Natasha Oliver (now Howard) met on Match.com (love to see how those profiles matched) and plan to honeymoon on a Kiss cruise in the fall. Oliver is a prosecuting attorney who lives in Hollywood and got a kick out of meeting Lady Demon winner and Arizona Superior Court Commissioner Christine Mulleneaux. “There is a litigious theme to today,” Natasha said after she and David swapped their vows, which were laden with Kiss lyrics and references, such as, “Do you promise to rock and roll all night?” Great stuff, just great.
• A sampling of Kiss-licensed products on sale at the attraction’s gift shop: ceramic coffee mugs and bowls, action figures that sing a variety of Kiss classics (“Beth” and “Rock and Roll Over” among them), a sculpture of Kiss members as Mount Rushmore figures, drum skins from the “Psycho Circus” tour, full stage costumes, clocks, incense burners, wigs for kids and adults and Kiss-fashioned Mr. Potato Head toys. Someone mentioned Kiss-licensed condoms were for sale, and the fact that I didn’t find any doesn’t mean that is not true.
• Performing in the open lot at the attraction’s entrance was Mr. Speed of Cleveland, winners of the Kiss-Off band competition held at Hard Rock Hotel’s Body English in January. Remarkably, two members of one of the bands who competed that day, Kiss Forever of Budapest, Hungary, showed up to take part in the opening ceremony.
• Las Vegas entertainment was well-represented at the VIP party. Performers I actually saw and/or interacted with included all four members of “Jersey Boys,” the casts of “Fantasy,” Thunder From Down Under, Chippendales (including guest star Jake Pavelka), Andrew "Dice" Clay, hypnotist Mark Savard, magician Murray Sawchuck, Penny Pibbets and the Gazillionaire from “Absinthe,” Tara Palsha from “Vegas! the Show” and “Defending the Caveman” star Kevin Burke.
• There was no more avid Kiss fan than its current drummer, Eric Singer, who saw the band on its first full U.S. tour in 1974, in Cleveland. He also caught them a year later on their “Hotter Than Hell” tour. “I was a Kiss fan for a long, long time before I was ever in the band,” Singer said. “I am now part of the spectacle. I love it.”
A last piece of Kiss trivia: In one of the oddest blends of sensibilities in entertainment history, the band appeared on “The Mike Douglas Show” on April 29, 1974. They played “Firehouse” from their eponymous debut album. And there’s just no way to finish a column about Kiss without employing the word “eponymous.”