Who is the man behind the curtain at the legendary Northwood Black course?
Some might consider him a hero, a genius, maybe even legendary himself. Others might consider him a villain; the evil mastermind behind the most challenging course on the planet.
Kip Taufer is virtually unknown outside the Peoria area, but his design expertise is near unmatched. A soft-spoken family man dedicated to his job and his course, Taufer floats behind the scenes most of the time and refrains from the limelight.
But his touch can be felt all over greater Peoria. He has installed Megiddo, Goodfield, Tuscarora, Kennel Lake, and Northwood Black.
At a young age, Taufer learned the trades of landscaping and design from his father.
“My dad was a landscape design builder, so that’s what I did my whole life,” Taufer says. “I knew how to build steps and bridges and pour concrete. My lifelong dream was originally to design traditional golf courses.”
When designing golf courses was no longer a plausible goal in central Illinois, Taufer shifted his interest to disc golf.
“On my 30th birthday, my wife’s cousins bought me some discs and we went and played in the Quad Cities at Prospect Park,” Taufer says. “I was terrible, but still had a good time and fell in love with it.”
When he returned home to Morton, Illinois, Taufer reached out to his friend on the Parks District Board. He believed he had found a way to combine his newfound love of disc golf with his skill in landscape design.
“I grew up playing baseball at Westwood Park and I knew there were some woods back there,” he said. “I approached the Parks Board and asked if I could design a course in the woods. They said yes and that’s how I got into designing.”
In 2014, Westwood Park officially launched the Megiddo Disc Golf Course which Taufer designed and installed. Over the next two years he designed and installed three more courses.
In 2016, Taufer was approached by Ledgestone tournament director Nate Heinold to help bring the vision of a championship course at Northwood Park to life. At the time there was only one course on the property.
“He reached out and told me he was looking to make Northwood tougher,” Taufer says. “So we added six difficult holes for the 2019 Worlds and created the Gold course, knowing that we’d eventually have two separate courses.”
Heinold assisted where he could, but the majority of the design implementation came from Taufer, including the building of large-scale stairs and bridges. While Taufer has remained the constant presence at Northwood, toiling away on a weekly basis, he has had help on many projects from volunteers, Ledgestone workers ,and Morton Parks District employees. He refuses to take the credit for himself.
“I might be the one out there all the time, but I did not create Northwood on my own,” he says. “There have been so many other people involved to make this place happen, like the Morton Parks District and the team Ledgestone sends out before the tournament.”
Hole 12 exemplifies the hard work Taufer has put in at Northwood Black. Before the 1,050-foot par 5 was cut, an abundance of honeysuckle and thick, prickly undergrowth snaked between the trees. And a creek bordered by a steep slope, threw a hazardous crossing in the mix.
But under Taufer’s guidance, Hole 12 became what is now regarded as one of the best holes in the world.
“I probably have 300 hours alone on that hole,” he says. “We had a 120-foot bridge that had to be built. And a ton of clearing. The undergrowth was so bad, I had to crawl through just to find a line.”
On August 5, 2021, the Northwood Black course made its world debut as part of the Ledgestone Insurance Open. Most of the fairways were freshly cut and the rough was super thick. Both the MPO and FPO fields struggled to throw under par and the course faced criticism for being too difficult and creating brutally long rounds.
“The pace of play was way too slow,” Taufer admits. “A few holes definitely needed to be tweaked. We adjusted those and this year we also have green grass in the fairways. There’s just something beautiful about playing on grass in the middle of the woods.”
You can learn more about the changes made to Northwood Black for the 2022 Ledgestone Open here.
Taufer balances being at home and available for his wife and kids, with work as the superintendent of the Village of Morton Street Department. On top of those time-consuming roles, he still manages to pour his remaining energy into the Northwood Black course.
“Every ounce of time I have, I’m out there,” Taufer said. “I go out at 5am before I go into work, and then again after work, and every Saturday. Sometimes I have help, but most of the time it’s me. It has been a labor of love and I really enjoy being out in the peaceful woods.”
Taufer continually improves the holes and overall professionalism at Northwood Black and he expects it to continue to get better and better each year for Ledgestone.