PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – James Ray (J.R.) Carpenter of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, the 25th president of the PGA of America, passed away early Wednesday at his daughter’s home in Hattiesburg following complications from congestive heart failure. He was 91.
Carpenter was elected to PGA membership in 1969, and served as PGA President from 1987-88, applying both homespun wit and counsel to become a respected leader within the golf industry.
Through Carpenter's nearly 50 years in professional golf, he never wavered in bringing to his work leadership, fairness and a strong sense of understanding the PGA Member.
“The PGA of America is saddened by the passing of J.R. Carpenter, a loyal and passionate PGA Professional who followed a simple yet effective formula in life – leave the place better than when you arrived,” said PGA of America President Paul K. Levy. “J.R. mentored so many who went on to meaningful positions in the golf industry. He had a wonderful way about him with down-home humor, but he never lost sight of the mission of the PGA, and what the Association could do for its members. We will miss him and our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
Carpenter graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) in Hattiesburg with a B.S. and a subsequent Master’s Degree in physical education in 1951. He spent three years in the U.S. Air Force a first lieutenant. Following his service, Carpenter returned to civilian life to become a high school basketball coach in Biloxi, Mississippi. He first sold insurance before moving into oil field supplies.
Born Dec. 12, 1926, in Runnelstown, Mississippi, Carpenter was an all-state football and basketball player in high school. He didn't touch a golf club until he was 33 years old – being introduced to the game in 1959 through a customer at Duncan Park Municipal Golf Course in Natchez, Mississippi. As a salesman of oil field supplies, Carpenter's career path soon transformed into golf.
“I vowed right there and then that the next time I played I was at least going to be able to find my ball once I managed to hit it,” Carpenter recalled years later. He applied his athletic skills to golf, and was scoring in the 70s and low 80s at the University of Southern Mississippi golf course in Hattiesburg, where he played with other USM alumni.
In 1964, the USM physical education instructor who also acted as golf coach, head professional and course superintendent was retiring and school officials searched for a replacement. Carpenter, then one of the facility’s best golfers, was offered the position and accepted.
His leadership skills led his golf teams to winning seasons in each of his 13 years with USM. His son, Jimmy, would eventually follow his father and became a PGA Professional and USM golf coach.
Carpenter went on to make an impact in the PGA of America following his election to membership in 1969. From his term as president of the Gulf States PGA Section in 1975 to serving on the PGA Board of Directors (1980-82), Carpenter's role in the Association continued to grow.
Carpenter’s term as PGA President was marked by his determination to help guide education programs. During this period, the PGA Golf Management University curriculum opened at two universities. Today, the program is a fixture at 18 colleges and universities nationwide.
Carpenter also chaired six national committees – Junior Golf, Section Affairs, Finance, Apprentice, the PGA Professional Championship and Special Awards. Each group received his special brand of enthusiasm and direction.
Following his PGA term as a national officer, Carpenter also became a respected member of one of the Association's most prestigious groups outside the gallery ropes – the PGA Rules Committee. He also served a wide range of assignments including the PGA Championship, Ryder Cup, KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship, The Masters, U.S. Open and The Players Championship.
Carpenter left USM in 1990 to serve as director of golf at Timberton Golf Club in Hattiesburg. In 1998, he co-designed nine additional holes at the facility.
Carpenter was inducted into the USM Sports Hall of Fame, the USM Alumni Hall of Fame, the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and the Gulf States PGA Hall of Fame; and a member of the Memorial Tournament’s Captain’s Club. On Oct. 4, he was to be inducted into the Hattiesburg Hall of Fame.
Carpenter was preceded in death by his wife, Mary, in 2009. He is survived by five children: Richard, Deborah, Jimmy (a PGA Life Member); Melinda and Gary, 13 grandchildren and four great grandchildren.
Memorial services for J.R. Carpenter will be conducted all at Hardy Street Baptist Church, 1508 Hardy Street, in Hattiesburg, Mississippi 39401.
Visitation is Friday, Sept. 21, from 4-8 p.m. CT, and Saturday, Sept. 22, from 10-11 a.m.
The memorial service is Saturday from 11 a.m.-12 p.m.