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A Push to Move the Golf Course Atop a Native American ‘Stonehenge’

A Push to Move the Golf Course Atop a Native American ‘Stonehenge’

Historians hoping to preserve the ancient Octagon Earthworks in Newark, Ohio, as a UNESCO World Heritage site face a problem: the golf club that leases the property.

NEWARK, Ohio — The third hole here at the Moundbuilders Country Club is a tricky par 4: The green is protected by a six-foot-high mound that almost completely encircles the hole and requires a deft chip shot to clear if your approach shot goes awry.

“It’s a blind shot,” said Randol Mitchell, the club’s head golf professional, after driving his ball a good chunk of the hole’s 435 yards. “You have to watch out for those mounds.”

The topography of the course is built around the mounds, which were prescribed by the cosmology of the Native Americans who created them approximately 2,000 years ago as a way to measure the movement of the sun and the moon through the heavens.

In 1892, Licking County and the City of Newark, about 40 miles east of Columbus, allowed the state to use the land as an encampment for the Ohio National Guard. But after the camp closed, they reclaimed it and leased it to the club in 1910. A noted golf architect, Thomas Bendelow, who designed America’s first 18-hole public golf course, Van Cortlandt Park, in the Bronx, laid out a course that by 1911 had turned the ancient moon markers into errant shot adversaries.

“The ancient Moundbuilders unwittingly left behind the setting for as strange and sporty a golf course as ever felt the blow of a niblick,” an article about the course in the January 1930 issue of Golf Illustrated proclaimed.

The course itself, with a slope rating of 119, is medium difficult, though no one would ever confuse it for Jack Nicklaus’s Muirfield Village Golf Club (slope 130), which sits 40 miles to the west. Mitchell said the mounds are a more formidable obstacle than they at first appear.

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“It’s hard to shoot what you normally shoot here,” he said. “Even though, on paper, it shouldn’t be that hard.”

Efforts to fully recognize the significance of the mounds as more than unusual golf hazards date back roughly two decades to a period when a bid to build a new clubhouse, whose foundation would have dug into the mounds, was denied. At that point, a group led by local professors and Native Americans organized a protest campaign — and some residents began questioning whether the course should exist at all.

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