Born in April 1936 and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, Nichols attended St. Xavier High School. While in high school, Nichols and several other youths were involved in an automobile accident resulting from a 100 mph joy ride. He suffered serious injuries including a broken pelvis, concussion, back and internal injuries, and was hospitalized 96 days. His legs were also paralyzed for about two weeks, but he was able to regain full use of his legs after intensive physical therapy. Nichols later played on the Aggies golf team at the Agricultural & Mechanical College of Texas (later renamed Texas A&M University) in the Southwest Conference.
Nichols began playing on the PGA Tour in 1960 and recorded 12 victories, one of which, the PGA National Team Championship, was not fully recognized until 2012. He was a member of the Ryder Cup team in 1967, and his best year on tour was 1974 when he won twice, earned $124,747 and finished 14th on the money list. Nichols, Jerry Heard, and Lee Trevino were struck by lightning at the Western Open on Friday, June 27, 1975. All three men came back to play professional golf. Nichols has had 12 holes-in-one in his professional career.
The 1964 PGA Championship was played at the Columbus Country Club in Columbus, Ohio. Nichols won with a 271 total, three shots ahead of runners-up Arnold Palmer and defending champion Jack Nicklaus, playing in his hometown. This was a record low score for the PGA Championship and it stood for 30 years, until broken by Nick Price's 269 in 1994. Nichols was the first wire-to-wire winner since the PGA Championship switched format from match play to stroke play in 1958. He came close to winning a second major at the Masters in 1967, finishing second to his lifelong friend, Gay Brewer.
After turning 50 in 1986, Nichols played on the Senior PGA Tour, now the Champions Tour. He had numerous top-10 finishes but only one victory – the Southwestern Bell Classic in 1989, when he defeated Orville Moody on the third hole of a playoff.
Bobby Nichols Golf Course is a 9-hole municipal course that is part of Waverly Park in Louisville, southwest of downtown. The back tees are set at 6,970 yards with a rating of 72.0 and a slope of 130.