Mounds of Controversy at Ohio Club

Moundbuilders Country Club has been experiencing an unwanted popularity over the past few years. Besides an 18-hole golf course and clubhouse, the private facility in Newark, Ohio, is the home of a 2,000-year-old lunar observatory fashioned by the ancient Hopewell Indians. Since 1933, the members have played golf on the one-time sacred land. Only recently was the artifact discovered. And that’s where the trouble began for the club.

The tribe used sharp sticks and clamshells to sculpt 7 million square feet of dirt into the shape of mounds that once served as their lunar observatory and spiritual center. According to an article in the New York Times, the Newark Earthworks lingered in obscurity until 2000, when Moundbuilders announced plans for a new clubhouse. The new design involved a foundation that would have cut right into the mounds. Once the full details of the project were revealed, the club was denied a permit by local officials.

But the club’s proposal sparked interest in the mounds among history professors and American Indians, who were aghast at the idea of people smacking around little white balls on such hallowed real estate. “Playing golf on a Native American spiritual site is a fundamental desecration,” sniffed Dr. Richard Shiels. The history professor at Ohio State University’s Newark campus made his comments to Times reporter Christopher Maag.

The earthworks, which at one time sprawled over a 4-square-mile area, now range in size from 3 to 14 feet tall. The site contains an octagon large enough to hold four Roman Colosseums. Two parallel mounds connect it to a 20-acre circle.

The purpose of the arrangement remained a mystery until 1982, when professors from Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., discovered the mounds aligned perfectly with the lunar cycle. According to Maag’s article, once every 18.6 years the moon rises at the northernmost point in its orbit. Framed by the mounds, the orb hovers within one-half of a degree of the octagon’s exact center. This makes the Newark Earthworks twice as precise as the much more famous lunar observatory at Stonehenge in England.

The increased interest has caused new headaches for the club. The local historical society owns the property for the golf course and has leased the land to the club since 1933, with the provision that club leaders allow the public onto the mounds. During the moonrise on November 18th, about 100 people stood on a hilltop a mile from the earthworks and watched the tip of the moon rise above a distant ridge.

But the event wasn’t quite what the recently formed Moonrise Committee had sought. The committee wanted the club to allow a moonrise celebration on the mounds. But Moundbuilders balked at the idea. The club demanded the committee raise $23,252 to pay for insurance, security and a temporary platform to keep the public off their beloved turfgrass.

“We have a lease, and we have rights,” general manager Ralph Burpee told Maag. “Everyone would love to portray us as rich fat cats. Well, this is Newark, Ohio, which pretty much precludes rich fat cats.”