New Zealand’s greatest ever golfer on why he thinks it’s the greatest game ever invented, shooting under par well into his 80s, and giving something back. Kurt Bayer speaks with Sir Bob Charles.

More than 60 years after taming the great “Golden Bear” Jack Nicklaus and hoisting the Claret Jug, Sir Bob Charles no longer plays in the cold or rain.

The 88-year-old Major winner is a self-confessed fairweather golfer these days.

And after a glittering professional career with 80 wins, not including the 1963 Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes in England, and being inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, it’s fair enough too.

He refuses to play in the South Island winter and only starts thinking about it when the mercury nudges above 15C and the forecast is looking promising and dry.

Charles hasn’t played a round of golf since March 12 and probably won’t until spring.

But when conditions are right, and on courses and tees that suit his twilight game, the smooth lefthander can still hang with the best of them.

On a recent trip to London, he played a lot of golf with his daughter and even shot a 69 at the storied Royal Wimbledon Golf Club, the third oldest club in England.

“I was quite proud of that,” says Charles, who plays off a handicap of “3-something”.

“As long as I’ve got a golf course that complements my game I can still shoot around par.”

Carterton-born Charles has lived at Clearwater Resort near Christchurch Airport for the past 18 years, bordering the championship 18-hole course where a new golf centre bearing his name opens this weekend.

The high-tech, purpose-built Sir Bob Charles Golf Centre is a collaboration between Charles and founder and director of Heller Meats, Todd Heller, aimed “specifically to develop and nurture the next generation of golf”.

The driving range and performance facility will be one of the best of its kind in Australasia, say those behind it, and will feature top coaches overseen by former world No. 1 ranked amateur and tour player Marcus Wheelhouse.

Charles says he is honoured to have his name associated with the centre and to play a part in giving back to the game that has given him so much.

“After 80-plus years of hitting golf balls, I’ve seen a few changes and I’ve pretty much played every ball game there is and golf is the greatest game of all,” he says.

And although he believes the sport is booming, he thinks even more could be done to attract youngsters.

He cites the example of cricket, which has moved with the times in recent decades, especially through the advent of shorter formats such as T20, where games take less than three hours. He thinks golf should be looking at similar moves.

“Golf can be more enjoyable and fun if played in three hours instead of four-and-a-half hours,” says Charles.

He cites three barriers to getting people into golf: expense; time; and the fact the “game is too difficult”.

“But it doesn’t have to be that way. I started playing with six hickory clubs and that was more than enjoyable,” Charles says.

“Starting early is an advantage. It’s good, healthy exercise, in the open fresh air. You can play it alone or in a team. That’s why I consider it to be the greatest game of all.”

And when the weather warms up again, Charles hopes to hit the fairways himself once again.

His father played until he was 96, and his mother until she was 91.

Charles hopes to still shoot scores under his age for a while to come.

“It’s a game of a lifetime,” he says.

2024-06-13T03:20:01Z dg43tfdfdgfd