Happy 95th Birthday J.B. Carr

Joe Carr with Sutton's lady captain, Toonie Murray, greeting Jack Nicklaus during the club's Centenary Year, 1990. The Golden Bear made a flying visit to Dublin for Joe's Captains Day.
Joe Carr with Sutton Golf Club’s lady Captain, Toonie Murray, greeting Jack Nicklaus during the club’s Centenary Year, 1990. The Golden Bear made a flying visit to Dublin for Joe’s Captains Day.

Today would have been the 95th birthday of our founder, Joe “J.B.” Carr. Joe was one of Ireland’s greatest golf heroes with over 40 championship victories including four Irish Open Amateur titles and three British Amateur wins. Even with all those trophies, he was perhaps even more famous for his sportsmanship.

In 1961, he became the first non-American to receive the USGA’s Bob Jones Award which recognizes an individual who demonstrates the spirit, personal character and respect for the game exhibited by Jones.

Fiercely proud of his Irish heritage, Joe became the first golfer from his country to play in the Masters in 1967. That same year he was awarded the Hagen Trophy for his contribution to Anglo-American goodwill. In 1991, he became the first Irishman chosen to captain The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews.

“My dad was always a gracious competitor, whether in victory or defeat,” said Roddy Carr, one of Joe’s six children. “People would lose to him in a match, but come away better from the experience because of how Joe treated them. He really meant it when he told them he had a great time and enjoyed their company.”

Joe was also known for his ability to stay calm under pressure. Roddy recalls one story while caddying for his father that epitomized Joe’s cool composure.

“My father was never caught up in chasing other players,” said Roddy. “He was confident in his play, and methodically approached each hole the same if he was up three or down three strokes. Joe would say ‘If I don’t lose, I’ll win.’ As long as he didn’t sabotage his own play with risky maneuvers, he was assured that his play would lead to victory.”

That theory was tested to the max as Joe and Roddy were in the closing stretch of a crucial match well behind. Roddy, who to that point was worried his father was not taking the right approach, then watched in awe as Joe made a series of decisive shots on the back nine – including a miraculous bunker escape and multiple upwind drives – to get back in contention. All the while Joe was unfazed and focused.

On the closing hole, both players found themselves on the green with difficult putts to determine the winner. As they strategized, a chorus of loud church bells across the county interrupted play to announce that it was noon.  Clearly rattled by the distraction, Joe’s opponent missed his putt by six inches. Joe, caught his son’s eye, winked, and sank his putt to secure a victory.

“My dad taught me not to panic,” said Roddy. “He always said just play your game and the best player will come out on top. That’s a life lesson as much as it is a golf lesson.”

It’s difficult to find a top Irish course that doesn’t have some tie to the three-time British Amateur champion. His adoptive parents (his mother’s sister and brother-in-law) were appointed steward and stewardess of Portmarnock Golf Club just before his birth. That’s where he first learned to play the game that would be such a huge part of his future.

Joe was just 19 when he won his first major tournament, the East of Ireland Amateur. Over the course of his prolific career, he won 12 East of Ireland titles, 12 West of Ireland titles, six Irish Amateur Close Championships and three South of Ireland titles. Other highlights included 11 Walker Cup appearances and three Masters appearances.

Joe was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in the Lifetime Achievement Category in 2007. Jack Nicklaus spoke on his behalf and said, “He always thought about what was best for the game and for his fellow competitors before he ever thought about himself. He was a cheery, fun loving guy who always was willing to exchange barbs with you. He wore a smile and offered a kind word and more often than not he offered an opponent more than just the riches of kindness.”

Happy Birthday, J.B.