Carr is the fifth of seven children born to George and Margaret Mary “Missie” Waters. At ten days old, he is adopted by his maternal aunt, Kathleen, and her husband, James Carr, who are childless and have recently returned home from India. The Carrs have just been appointed steward and stewardess of the Portmarnock Golf Club, allowing young Joe to play golf from a very early age.
Carr wins his first major tournament, the East of Ireland Amateur, at the age of 19 in 1941, which starts one of Ireland’s greatest golfing careers. He goes on to win twelve East of Ireland titles, twelve West of Ireland titles, six Irish Amateur Close Championships, four Irish Amateur Opens, and three South of Ireland titles.
Carr wins The Amateur Championship three times, in 1953, 1958, and 1960, and is runner-up in 1968. He is a semi-finalist at the United States Amateur Championship in 1961, and is low amateur at The Open Championship in both 1956 and 1958 and finishes 8th overall in 1960. In 1967, he becomes the first Irishman to play in the Masters Tournament, making the cut. He receives the Bob Jones Award in 1961, the USGA‘s highest honour, which is given for “distinguished sportsmanship in golf.” He is the first non-American to win the award.
Internationally, Carr represents Ireland in numerous amateur golfing events. He is a member of a record eleven Walker Cup teams from 1947 to 1967, including non-playing captain in 1965 and playing captain in 1967, amassing a record of 5–14–1. After several years of playing against the United States’ top-ranked players, he is moved down in the order for the 1961 event, only to be paired against Jack Nicklaus who wins the match. He plays and captains on multiple Eisenhower Trophy teams, and represents Ireland in the Men’s Home Internationals every year from 1947 to 1969. He retires from competitive golf in 1971, after his son Roddy plays for the winning Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup team.
In 1991, Carr is named Captain of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, the first Irishman to hold the post. In July 2007, he is elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in the Lifetime Achievement category, and is inducted in November 2007.