The screaming 15-year-old caddie hasn't just been bonked by an errant nine-iron shot. He has caught sight of two golfers on the 3rd green at Hickory Hill Country Club near Biloxi, Miss. The pair play on.
"Judas Priest!" the caddie repeats, approaching the green. "You guys really play golf?"
Ignoring the gallery, one golfer sinks a 12-foot putt. The other whirls around to face the teenager. "Yes," he replies. "But we do worship the devil at night."
The putter is Glenn Tipton and his partner is K.K. Downing, both in their mid-30s. They're the lead guitarists in Judas Priest, Britain's mock-satanic heavy metal band. In real life Downing and Tipton feel more passion for golf than sympathy for the devil. They play the game as often as three times a week when on tour. Both claim to shoot in the low 80s, though when pressed Tipton admits, "There are times when the scorecard blows away." They're such fanatical golfers that they sometimes set up a putting green backstage. "We're totally into it," says Downing. "The yardages, what ball to use, who's cheating...."
None of the middle-aged hackers working their way around Hickory Hill recognizes them. But by the time the twosome reaches the 7th hole, every adolescent boy in Biloxi who has ever tried on a studded dog collar—and you would be surprised at their number—is hiding out in the bunkers, ready to ambush Tipton and Downing for autographs.
A kid in a HELL BENT FOR LEATHER T-shirt pops out from behind a tree. "I went to your concert," he shouts. "Boy, were you loud. I mean, you were good, but boy were you loud."
Downing and Tipton are in Biloxi for the 77th concert of their 80-date North American tour. Onstage, amid belching smoke and singer Rob Halford's thumbscrew screaming, the pair strut, swagger and carry on like point men in a mutant army looking for Mad Max. Their brain-bludgeoning guitar riffs roar like Formula One racing cars, terrifying parents from Copenhagen to Carmel.
Last fall an enraged Tipper Gore, wife of Democratic Senator Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee, had the lyrics of the band's song Eat Me Alive read to a startled Senate Commerce Committee. "We've written over 100 songs, and she has to pick on that," says Downing. "Of course, it was a good one to pick on." Seems that everyone from parents groups to chain stores loves to pick on Judas Priest. Even the news of being banned from Malaysia doesn't surprise them.
That has only given the guitarists more time to tee it up. They took up the game about seven years ago when their counterparts in Def Leppard, another band in the heavy metallurgical mold, challenged them to a game. "They thrashed us," says Downing. "But we got the bug."
At first they went to great lengths to conceal their new addiction. The sport might be fine for mid-level executives at U.S. Steel, but for heavy metal rockers it presents something of a p.r. problem. "We felt golf could be detrimental to our leather-and-studs image," says Downing. "But then we thought, if word gets out, parents might decide that perhaps we're not bad chaps after all.
"On the other hand, if they hear Judas Priest is hacking down the fairway, they may assume we attach six-inch nails to our clubs before swinging them."
Not so. Downing and Tipton take a genteel approach to the game. They wear subdued polo shirts and slacks, and white golf shoes with fringed tongues. They scrupulously observe golf etiquette, gently tamping their divots back into place.
Golf, Downing and Tipton say, is a calm counterpoint to the hectic pace of life on the road. Still, the silence of the links occasionally unnerves them. "I've played stadiums before a hundred thousand people," Downing says. "And yet when the greenskeepers turn their tractors off and wait for me to take my swing, I get as nervous as hell."
On this afternoon the weather is fittingly theatrical: portentous black clouds, sudden shafts of sunlight, gusts of chilly air. "It's all part of heavy metal golf," Tipton says. "Usually, before teeing it up, a bolt of lightning comes down and scorches the earth: JUDAS PRIEST KEEP OFF."
Tipton is still reeling from a night of rock and revelry. At the 8th hole he slices his drive into the deep rough. But pulling out one of his heaviest metals—a three-iron—he reaches the green in two. "I struck it a little better," he says groggily. "I think my mind's clearing a bit."
The sky, however, is growing increasingly ominous. A rainstorm moves in and washes out the game. After nine holes, Downing has a 40. Tipton's scorecard has blown away.
They ride the cart back to the clubhouse. "Hey, man," yells a bystander. "Y'all Judas?"
"No," says Downing wearily. "He's among the disciples behind us."