Muhammad Ali grew up on a farm in Pakistan, working alongside his father after school each day. There was a lot to do, tending to fruits and vegetables, growing different crops, and taking care of horses in the countryside area of Ghour Ghushti.
“I did all kinds of farming, working in the fields and all that,” said Ali.
The work ethic that he acquired at a very young age has carried over into his job today, as the golf course superintendent and a certified arborist at Bing Maloney Golf Course in Sacramento and Bartley Cavanaugh Golf Course in Sacramento.
Ali is with Morton Golf, which manages and oversees operations at both facilities, along with those at Haggin Oaks Golf Complex in Sacramento and William Land Golf Course in Sacramento.
Ali is up each day at 3:30 a.m., and then at work, in time to see the sunrise. He and his team start work on the golf course at 5 a.m.
“My favorite thing to do is to show up to work every day,” said Ali. “It’s a dream job for me. There are very few people on the road at that time – no traffic, nothing. Even at the time when I go home, I don’t run into traffic. It’s perfect.
“Golf courses are just beautiful places. Being on a golf course every day is a blessing.”
Ali has been working at golf courses since his arrival in the United States in 2007. He has been on the grounds staff at Haggin Oaks, which has two courses – Alister MacKenzie Golf Course and Arcade Creek Course. He has also been on the team at Timber Creek Golf Course in Roseville.
Ali was recognized recently with one of the top awards in his field. He received the 2019 President’s GrassRoots Award from the Sierra Nevada Chapter of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America “for his outstanding individual career efforts and for his contributions to the association and the industry.”
Ali is so very honored to receive the award.
“I think SNGCSA award was a great honor for me, because, in our chapter we have lots of hard working and very knowledgeable superintendents from high end golf courses, but they still selected me for this award,” he said. “On the other hand, it’s really encouraging for me to get recognized for presenting GCSAA and Morton Golf. However, I can’t achieve all this without help of my family and hard-working crew.” In its mission statement, at sierranevadagcsa.com, the Sierra Nevada Golf Course Superintendents Association “is established to enhance the profession and promote the growth of golf through quality education and networking opportunities for members.” In its mission statement, at www.gcsaa.org, the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America “is dedicated to serving its members, advancing their profession and enhancing the enjoyment, growth and vitality of the game of golf.”
Ali is a member of the Sierra Nevada Chapter of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America and the GCSAA.
“When I came here, it was challenging for me, getting used to the cultural change,” he said. “I didn’t speak English at the time. I went to school to learn English. I took some classes for my citizenship.”
Ali hasn’t stopped working since coming to Sacramento.
“I love my home country, where I grew up. For me, moving here and living here, this is a great country,” he said. “There are lots of opportunity for somebody who wants to work for it.”
He worked two jobs, at Haggin Oaks as a seasonal groundskeeper starting in July of 2008, and at Timber Creek about a year later, putting in 16-hour days. “It was tough,” he recalled. “I did it for two years.”
He enrolled at American River College in Sacramento in 2010. He earned a degree in horticulture and certifications. He got his pesticide license.
He became a U.S. citizen in 2010.
He took on more duties at Haggin Oaks, working on the irrigation system on the Alister MacKenzie Golf Course, learning more and more about fertilizer programs and chemical applications, and becoming an assistant superintendent.
He has also worked at William Land Golf Course.
Ali moved to the Bing Maloney Golf Course in 2017. He recently started working at Bartley Cavanaugh Golf Course. He has had youths from the area out to the golf course, in a program where he talks about the field of agronomy, going over the work he does as related to the golf course and in particular, soils, plants, water and climate. Ali was recognized and celebrated in a recent report on the Haggin Oaks website, www.hagginoaks.com, on Sept. 24, as “one of the most accomplished superintendents in the Sacramento area.”
The report said:
“This award is no small feat and is only awarded to a select few superintendents. And for his incredible work last year, Muhammad Ali was honored with this award for his outstanding individual career efforts and for his contributions to the association and industry.
“We are lucky enough to have this incredible gentleman as our superintendent at Bing Maloney Golf Course in Sacramento and want to congratulate him for this great accomplishment!
“Thank you, Ali, for everything that you do to keep our golf course in amazing condition, come up with creative solutions to unique problems, and help our golfers have the best time possible while out on the course!” Additionally, Haggin Oaks reported on Nov. 18 on its website, www.hagginoaks.com, that Ali achieved Class A membership status with the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America.
In its report, Haggin Oaks said:
“To achieve this designation, Muhammad engaged in competency-based continuing education and has demonstrated a strong commitment to environmental stewardship by meeting the GCSAA Integrated Pest Management Requirement.
“In meeting this designation, Muhammad Ali has shown awesome dedication to developing his career, enhancing our course operations, and making golf even more enjoyable for our golfers.
“Please join us in congratulating him on his accomplishment!
“We appreciate you, Muhammad. Thank you for your awesome dedication to Bing Maloney Golf Course and all of the Morton Family Golf Courses!”
Ali is a member of the board for the Sierra Nevada Chapter of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America.
“I love the networking between superintendents. I talk to a bunch of people in this industry,” he said. “Sometimes we have some unique problems. And if I don’t know, I reach out to people. Sometimes if they need help, then they reach out to me. It’s a good group of people.”
He takes great pride in the overall care and set-up of the course each day – including mowing greens, fairways, tees, approach areas and rough, raking bunkers, putting in pins, watering and doing overall and general cleanup in advance of play.
“Golf course work is something I wanted to do when I moved to the United States back in 2007,” he said. “I fell in love with it, with everything they asked me to do, when I started out as a groundskeeper. I just worked my way up, from mowing greens to fixing sprinklers. It makes your day when something gets done the way you want it, and you see other people are enjoying it.
“Every day mowing greens and fairways, knowing that people are going to come and play their round that day.”
He worked on a bunker renovation project at Haggin Oaks a few years ago. He has also worked on bunker renovations at Bing Maloney.
“I really take pride in it, because once you do something, and you see improvement, it just makes you happy,” Ali said.
Ali said he greatly appreciates the customer feedback that he and his staff receives from golfers on course set-up and conditions and all of the work that goes into caring for a course throughout the year.
“It makes me happy when I see people who are enjoying the golf and having a good time,” he said. “They come in and say positive things about the grounds crew. Golfers are the nicest people.”
Marty James is a freelance writer who makes his home in Napa. He retired on June 4, 2019, after spending 40 years as a sports writer, sports editor and executive sports editor for the Napa Valley Register, a daily newspaper in Napa County. He is a 1979 graduate of Sacramento State and a member of the California Golf Writers & Broadcasters Association. He was inducted into the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Hall of Fame in 2016.