State Supreme Court mulls the future of a golf course built around rare Native American earthworks

Golf course news and notes: April, 2021.
Moundbuilders Country Club's golf course plays over and around a series of earthworks raised by the Hopewell culture of Native Americans some 2,000 years ago.

Moundbuilders Country Club, originally laid out by prolific architect Tom Bendelow in 1911, occupies a unique piece of ground in the game. Its namesakes were the Hopewell culture of Native Americans, who built a series of geometric berms in the area some 2,000 years ago, presumably in an effort at astronomical observation.

The land on which the private club sits envelops three of these structures: a giant octagonal mound that contains four holes, a massive circular mound that comes into play on seven holes and a smaller circular mound that nearly completely enfolds the green on the par-4 third. The ridges themselves are between six and eight feet high, creating unusual vertical hazards on several shots.

...overall the course was excellent and the layout is awesome with all the mounds going through the fairways and around the greens."
2015 review of Moundbuilders Country Club

Over the years, many similar earthworks in the area were flattened to accommodate houses, roads and other modern infrastructure. Members and other advocates argue that the existence of the club and course have contributed to their mounds' preservation over the past century. Non-members are allowed to look at the mounds from a nearby viewing platform, and in-person tours of the mounds are offered periodically during the year.

As initially reported last year locally and last week in the New York Times, a legal battle is ongoing between the club and its landlord, the Ohio History Connection (OHC), over the club's right to continue to exist in its current location.

The OHC's current lease with the club runs through at least 2078, but the organization has made repeated monetary offers to the club to end the lease and reclaim the land outright. Those offers, for less than $5 million, are significantly lower than that reflected by recent appraisals of the 134-acre tract, which run past $10 million. At least that much would likely be required for the club's members to buy the necessary land and build a brand-new golf course for their use elsewhere.

The Ohio Supreme Court is currently assessing the case, with the OHC claiming Moundbuilders Country Club can, on the basis of eminent domain, be forced out of the lease several decades before it is scheduled to end.

The question over whether it is appropriate to play golf over and among structures of significant cultural value is important to grapple with as society becomes more cognizant of the ways in which the effects of colonization, cultural erasure and oppression reverberate to the present day.

Other golf course news and notes

A sunny day view of a green at Montcalm Golf Club.

NEW COLLEGE HOME COURSE - If you're a Dartmouth College golfer, the last year has been a roller-coaster. Last July, the Ivy League school in New Hampshire announced the shuttering of several of its athletics programs, including the men's and women's golf programs, citing a combination of reasons that included the COVID-19 pandemic's effects on the institution's finances. Dartmouth also closed the 120-year old Hanover Country Club, the home course of the Big Green's teams. But then, in January, Dartmouth reversed course, and golf is back in business. But the Hanover course remains closed, so both teams have found a home at the upscale Montcalm Golf Club about 20 minutes south of campus. [LINK: The Golf Wire]

$10 MILLION FOR NEW GOLF - Cragun's Hotel & Resort on Gull Lake in northern Minnesota will soon embark on a significant upgrade to its golf facilities and has enlisted the help of Gopher State favorite son Tom Lehman to help renovate the two existing courses and add a new nine, bringing the resort's complement to 45 holes. [LINK: Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal]

BANKRUPT BUT... - The saga of Dismal River Club in Nebraska has at times fit its name. The club was initially built on similar mystique as Sand Hills Golf Club, its neighbor in remote Mullen, Neb. Joel Jacobs, the club's fourth owner in its 15-year history, is seeking bankruptcy protection to assist "minority shareholders with their own personal financial issues" rather than bail the club out of overall financial trouble. Jacobs says play and memberships are strong to the point where there is currently a waiting list. Good news for fans of the Nicklaus-designed White and Doak-designed Red courses here. [LINK: Lincoln Journal Star]

DEEP-SOUTH C&C COURSE UNDERWAY - Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw won't open a new golf course in the U.S. in 2021, but that doesn't mean they're not busy. In addition to their upcoming overhaul at The International near Boston, the pair will design a new course on Lake Martin in central Alabama, about an hour north of Montgomery. The course will sit across a finger of the lake from Willow Point Country Club, which is owned by the new course's developers. It will be part of a 1,500-acre community called The Heritage. [LINK: Alexander City Outlook]

CROWD-SOURCED COURSE NAME - "Bar Run Golf Club" will be the name of the Dan Hixson course in southern Oregon formerly known as Callahan Ridge. The contest to name the course drew nearly 2,400 entries. According to the name announcement, "Bar Run" had initially been pitched by a member of the family that owns the course. [LINK: GolfTripX]

GOLF-ADJACENT - Accidents can happen on the golf course. But calling 9-1-1? [LINK: Boston Globe]

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Tim Gavrich is a Senior Writer for GolfPass. Follow him on Twitter @TimGavrich and on Instagram @TimGavrich.
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State Supreme Court mulls the future of a golf course built around rare Native American earthworks