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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Don't lose your swing or give up mini-golf fun, just because it's cold outside

At the first tee, John Dellena sets his ball, eyes the hole and draws back his club. His daughter Rachel, 6, stands behind a casket on the course. You expect the East Greenwich man to receive silence, but no. Music blares. Lights flash. Colors glow. And, off to the side, an inflatable monster rises for the occasion. Come on, can't a guy concentrate? "It doesn't matter," Dellena says. "It's not like you're playing seriously." Monster Mini Golf has made its way to Warwick. Meanwhile in West Warwick, the eagle has landed. Actually, it's been roosting for nine years. The Eagle Quest Golf Dome is the state's only site where players can putt, pitch and, most notably, drive with distance - indoors. "It is unnatural," says John Mellor of Cranston. "But it keeps us in practice for spring." It's cold. It's January. Get your clubs. Mini golf with an edge On second thought, leave your clubs. Our first stop is Monster Mini Golf. Putters are provided. Ask the staff. They're the ones in the white lab coats. "It makes them look like mad scientists," says JoAnne Lemoi, one of the owners. "It also makes them really identifiable." Black lights fill the darkened space, as do fluorescent colors, ghoulish decorations and pulsing music. It's mini golf with an edge, and energy. "The music keeps you pumped," says Laurie Roles of Coventry, visiting on a family outing. "It's not Disney World," says Leslie Roles of St. Petersburg, Fla. "But it's fun." The Monster Mini Golf in Warwick opened in November, becoming the latest and greatest franchise for the company, started 3 years ago by Christina Vitagliano and her husband, Patrick, who owned a theatrical lighting and sound company. Christina Vitagliano wanted a change. She was tired of the stress and pace of auction work. "I wanted something that wasn't labor intensive, and something that was easier to run and was more profitable," Vitagliano says. "We had to come up with something." Vitagliano thought to start an indoor miniature golf course that would be open year-round and glow in the dark. Research confirmed her suspicions: Miniature golf courses are among the 10 most profitable businesses, according to Vitagliano. "The only thing we need to replace is score cards," she says. "That's the simplicity of the business. All I want to do is hand out putters." IN 2004, THE Vitaglianos opened their first Monster Mini Golf, in Danielson, Conn. "We opened an indoor business on the first weekend of summer," she says. "We were indoors and in the dark. I thought, 'This is crazy.' I found out it's not." The crowds came. The business grew. "This little business in the middle of nowhere was doing very well," Vitagliano says. "I knew if I didn't open a second store, someone else was going to." In two years, Monster Mini Golf has created 11 franchises in eight states, and the company is now headquartered in Providence. Vitagliano is originally from Rhode Island - Warwick, in fact - and the Warwick Monster is the flagship. "It's a showpiece," Vitagliano says. "It's beautiful." The Warwick Monster is 11,000 square feet, with an arcade, two party rooms and an 18-hole glow-in-the-dark miniature course. "It's everything my family loves," Lemoi says. "It's mini golf, glow in the dark and it's monsters." After working as an X-ray technician for 25 years, Lemoi switched careers. A year ago, she started the process of getting the franchise with her husband, Steve, who is a co-owner of the business and works with her there. Miniature golf, she says, appeals to all ages. Bill Thompson of Cranston and his daughter Elizabeth, 10, play the course. "She's interested in the scary stuff,'' Thompson says. "I'm looking at the golf." Thompson is a golfer, and says miniature golf indoors is more satisfying than miniature golf outdoors. Weather, he says, doesn't warp the artificial surface. "Maybe I do take it more seriously than I should," he says. "But it's fun." Monster Mini Golf is at 33 Lambert Lind Highway, Warwick. It's open Tuesday through Thursday, 2 to 9 p.m., Friday, 2 to 10 p.m., Saturday, noon to 10 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 8 p.m. Parties are by appointment. The cost for a round of golf, which is determined by a player's height, ranges from $7 for an average height adult, to free for small children. For more information, call (401) 921-5472, or visit

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