From gridiron to golf

Tony Springmann transitioned from Notre Dame football player to caring for a different kind of green at Wicker Point GC.


Tony Springmann
Wicker Point GC assistant superintendent Tony Springmann has made the transition from major college football player at the University of Notre Dame to the golf industry. Photo by Larry Robinson

He utilized that 6-foot-5, 300-pound frame to chase running backs and hunt quarterbacks on artificial and natural surfaces. Now, Tony Springmann is in hot pursuit of dominating on turfgrass.

A former defensive tackle at Notre Dame, Springmann has both feet firmly planted in the golf industry. You can find him in quite the happening place in the Southeast — and not just on fall Saturdays. An assistant superintendent, Springmann is entrenched in the grow-in at Wicker Point Golf Club in Alexander City, Ala.

Projected to open in 2023, the Coore & Crenshaw design will feature a lakefront back nine set along Lake Martin, a reservoir which when it was created a century ago was the largest man-made body of water in the world.

Springmann knows something about Alabama. Ten years ago, he played against the University of Alabama for the national championship. His journey in the past decade, though, is more about grass than gridiron. “I’ve jumped in with everything I could,” Springmann says.

A high school star at Bishop Dwenger in Fort Wayne, Ind., Springmann’s coach, Chris Svarczkopf, can confirm his standout player’s commitment to a cause. “His whole family is such dedicated people, can do pretty much anything they put their mind to,” says Svarczkopf, who fondly says Springmann’s red hair reminded him of a Viking. “He was such a student of the game. He knew the opponents’ tendencies. One team came out in a formation, and Tony started yelling right away what they’d do. He intercepted their bootleg pass and ran it in for a touchdown. They didn’t try it again.”

No wonder Springmann generated high hopes at Notre Dame. “From what I recall, he was diligent. Tough-minded. Smart. Nothing not to like as it relates to Tony Springmann,” says Bob Diaco, a former Irish defensive coordinator and currently defensive line coach with the New Jersey Generals in the United States Football League.

Springmann was besieged by knee injuries throughout his Notre Dame years. He did not play as a freshman in 2011, but he made an impact the following season in Notre Dame’s run to the national title game. Springmann notched two critical tackles in a victory over Oklahoma, and he played in all 13 games despite having the meniscus removed from his right knee. He returned a week later from surgery and played against Southern Cal, and he played in the title game against Alabama. Before the 2013 season opener, Springmann blew out his left knee and missed the entire season. To make matters worse, he suffered a post-surgery infection. Springmann, hampered by five knee surgeries and chronic back issues, never played again for the Irish.

Tony Springmann playing football at Notre Dame
A star high school football player in Indiana, Springmann was a highly regarded recruit who arrived at Notre Dame 11 years ago. Photo courtesy of Tony Springmann

Springmann served as a Notre Dame student assistant coach while continuing work in the classroom and pondering his post-football future. He also purchased and rehabbed a used stainless-steel Ping Anser 2 putter and visited Burke Golf Course in town. His fondness for golf grew, as did his curiosity. In 2015, Springmann went to see then-Warren Golf Course superintendent Matt Cielen, CGCS, near the Notre Dame campus in South Bend, Ind. “I was looking for a spring job to keep me busy. Matt let me come in mornings to rake bunkers before I went to class. He gave me a chance,” says Springmann, who besides his Notre Dame degrees in both business economics and American history, plus a master’s in secondary education and training, has an online degree in turfgrass management from Penn State University.

Cielen, now a field agronomist for Mavis Consulting and a 21-year GCSAA member, says, “He absolutely loved golf, and he could do anything from a physical standpoint. Another thing going for him was intelligence. Communicating with him is extremely easy. A true teammate, always willing to put the team first. He is kind of bashful. He’s like a humble giant.”

Later in 2015, Springmann and his wife, Cassidy, who was a catcher for the Notre Dame softball team, left South Bend for two years in Texas as part of their master’s in education requirements. He taught students U.S. history at Nolan Catholic High School in Fort Worth while Cassidy taught elementary students at the Catholic Diocese of Dallas. And Springmann compiled more golf course experience. Between 2017 and 2021, he had internships at Bradenton (Fla.) Country Club and Trinity Forest Golf Club in Dallas, returned to Warren GC as assistant and was an assistant at famed Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. He also was an assistant at The Country Club of Indianapolis and senior assistant at Plum Creek Golf Club in Carmel, Ind.

In June 2021, Springmann was named superintendent at The Trophy Club in Lebanon, Ind. “Four days into the job, my dad (David) died from cancer,” Springmann says.

Cassidy knew her husband would carry on. “The world could be falling apart around him, and he’s the peace in the storm,” she says.

When an opening was available at Wicker Point GC, Springmann didn’t hesitate to relinquish a superintendent role to become an assistant again. “It’s a place that wants to be great,” he says of Wicker Point.

This past March, Springmann started at Wicker Point GC to work for GCSAA Class A superintendent James Morgan, a seven-year association member who was superintendent at Trinity Forest when Springmann was there. In those four months he got to know Springmann, Morgan had seen enough to know he'd be an asset at Wicker Point.

“With Tony, it’s been about learning, applying himself, taking it all in. Very humble, but you could tell he was a leader. He’s smart, driven and has the résumé. You knew there was something special about Tony,” says Morgan, adding, with a laugh, “If we get in a 7-on-7 league, we’d have a clear advantage.”

Morgan noted that Springmann never told anyone he played for Notre Dame until about a month after arriving. “He didn’t advertise it. He kept his head down and wasn’t afraid to get muddy,” Morgan says. It didn’t hurt that Springmann had previous experience with Coore & Crenshaw facilities such as Warren GC and Trinity Forest.

Although those football days under the Golden Dome have passed, Springmann and Cassidy occasionally return to Notre Dame and do the tailgating thing. He prefers that over being inside the stadium. “I really don’t want to go. I’d rather have a cookout, then go watch at a friend’s house,” he says.

The team aspect he embraced in football correlates with golf, the sport Springmann has enthusiastically wrapped his arms around after years of wrapping up football players in the backfield. “In football, you have highs and lows. You get knocked down a lot. You get back up and trust the people around you,” Springmann says. “If you believe in each other and are fully connected, anything is possible.”

Howard Richman is GCM's associate editor