Born in Carterton, a small town in the Wairarapa district in New Zealand's North Island, Charles lived in Masterton where he worked as a bank teller. He won the New Zealand Open at Heretaunga on 8 November 1954, as an 18-year-old amateur.
Charles decided to hone his skills as an amateur first, and remained in his bank employment for a further six years. He represented New Zealand several times in international amateur tournaments during this period.
Charles turned professional in 1960 and the next year won the New Zealand PGA Championship and soon after ventured overseas to the European and North American circuits.
In 1963, Charles won his first PGA Tour event in the United States, the Houston Classic, the first PGA Tour event won by a left-handed golfer. Later that year he won The Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St. Annes. After four rounds (68-72-66-71) his 277 was level with American Phil Rodgers. Charles won the 36-hole playoff by eight shots.
Charles has won about 80 tournaments around the world. As well as his PGA Tour victories, his win in the 1969 World Matchplay Championship was considered one of his best. He won the Senior British Open 30 years after winning his British Open title. He remains, along with Michael Campbell, one of only two New Zealanders to win a men's major golf championship.
In 2007 Charles became the oldest golfer to make a cut on the European Tour at the Michael Hill New Zealand Open. Charles shot a 68 in the second round, beating his age by three strokes. He would go on to finish in a tie for 23rd place.
Charles's move to the Senior PGA Tour (now called Champions Tour) was very lucrative and successful with 23 titles; and in three years 1988, 1989 and 1993, he recorded lowest scoring average. He finished second on the European Seniors Tour's 2007 Wentworth Senior Masters at the age of 71. He was the first left-hander to win a major, but also the first lefty to be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, in the veterans category. He was inducted in 2008. He would remain the only lefty inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame until Phil Mickelson was elected in 2011.
At the Senior British Open Championship in 2010, Charles announced in an ESPN interview that he would retire from golf, stating that he was "74 years old, traveling this world for 50 years, and it's time to slow down and spend more time on my farm in New Zealand with my family."
Charles is a sporting hero in New Zealand, not only for his achievements but also for his demeanour and philanthropy regarding junior golfers. He was also a role model worldwide for left-handed golfers. Until Canadian Mike Weir won The Masters in 2003, Charles was the only golfer with a left-handed swing to have won a major.
In the New Year Honours 1972 Charles was appointed an Officer of The Order of The British Empire. In the New Year Honours 1992 Charles was promoted to Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to golf. In the New Year Honours 1999 Charles was appointed a Knight Companion of The New Zealand Order of Merit for services to golf. In the New Year Honours 2011 Charles was appointed to The Order of New Zealand for services to New Zealand.
Charles married his wife Verity in 1962 and they have two children, Beverly and David. David is a golf director in the United States. He is a successful golf course designer having had major input into the Formosa Country Club east of Auckland, Millbrook at the resort town of Queenstown, and 'The Dunes' course at Matarangi on the Coromandel Peninsula. He was also consultant to the Clearwater course, near Christchurch, designed by golf architect John Darby.
Charles has played in the Gary Player Invitational several times to assist Gary Player raise funds for various underprivileged children's causes.
PGA Tour playoff record (1–2)
Major championship is shown in bold.
European Tour playoff record (0–1)1954 New Zealand Open (as an amateur)
1961 New Zealand PGA Championship
1966 New Zealand Open
1970 New Zealand Open
1973 New Zealand Open
1978 Air New Zealand Shell Open
1979 New Zealand PGA Championship
1980 New Zealand PGA Championship
1961 Bowmaker Tournament, Caltex Tournament
1962 Daks Tournament (tie with Dai Rees), Caltex Tournament, Swiss Open
1963 Watties Open
1966 Watties Open
1967 New Zealand Wills Masters (tie with Martin Roesink)
1967 Caltex Tournament (tie with Peter Thomson), Watties Open
1968 Watties Open, Caltex Tournament
1969 Piccadilly World Match Play Championship, Spalding Masters
1971 Otago Charity Classic, Caltex Tournament
1972 Spalding Masters
1973 South African Open, Auckland City Classic
1983 Tallahassee Open
Senior PGA Tour playoff record (2–7)1986 Mazda Champions (with Amy Alcott)
1987 Mauna Lani Invitational
1988 Fuji Electric Grandslam, 1st National Bank Classic
1989 Fuji Electric Grandslam, Senior British Open
1990 Fuji Electric Grandslam, Kintetsu Home Senior, Daikyo Senior Invitational
1991 Kintetsu Home Senior
1998 Office Depot Father/Son Challenge (with son David)
2004 Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf – Raphael Division (with Stewart Ginn)
2009 Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf – Demaret Division (with Gary Player)
2010 Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf – Demaret Division (with Gary Player)
1Defeated Phil Rodgers in a 36-hole playoff (Charles 69-71=140, Rodgers 72-76=148).
CUT = missed the halfway cut
WD = withdrew
QF, SF = Round in which player lost in match play
"T" indicates a tie for a place.
Source for The Masters: www.masters.com
Source for U.S. Open: USGA Championship Database
Source for The British Open: www.opengolf.com
Source for PGA Championship: PGA Championship Media Guide
Source for 1958 Amateur Championship: The Glasgow Herald, 6 June 1958, pg. 4.Most consecutive cuts made – 11 (1962 Masters – 1965 Masters)
Longest streak of top-10s – 3 (1968 U.S. Open – 1968 PGA)
AmateurEisenhower Trophy (representing New Zealand): 1958, 1960
ProfessionalWorld Cup (representing New Zealand): 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1971, 1972
Hennessy Cognac Cup (representing the Rest of the World): 1982
Dunhill Cup (representing New Zealand): 1985, 1986