Bobby Brownell, 86, an insurance executive who was one of Washington's leading amateur golfers for decades, died Oct. 13 of congestive heart failure at Casey House hospice in Rockville. He lived in Kensington.
Mr. Brownell worked in the FBI for six years and resigned in the late 1940s to join another top golfer, Ralph Bogart, to form the Bogart & Brownell Insurance Co. in Bethesda. They sold the firm in 1990.
Mr. Brownell was a successful insurance executive, but he gained his greatest renown for his golf skills. He won his first tournament, the Washington junior championship, in 1934, when he was a 15-year-old student at Roosevelt High School. Two years later, he captured the first of 11 titles as Washington amateur champion, besting competitors more than twice his age. From 1946 to 1955, he captured 10 consecutive Washington amateur championships, winning 57 straight matches.
He was a five-time middle-Atlantic amateur champion, won several Maryland state titles, set several course records and continued to win age-group championships well into the 1970s.
"Bobby's too modest to tell you how good he was," longtime friend and golfer Jack Mills said in a Washington Post article published April 21. "But let me tell you. He was a very special player."
In the 1930s and 1940s, his local fame was so great that newspapers printed not only the times that Mr. Brownell would tee off in competition but also the times of his practice rounds. Although he often scored better than professional golfers, Mr. Brownell never played a single hole as a pro.
"I just decided to stay an amateur," he told The Post. "I had a wife and children, and that kind of life never appealed to me. I never regretted it, not once."
Robert W. Brownell was born in Washington and took up golf when he was 10. His father, James V. Brownell, was an executive with the Underwood typewriter company and an outstanding amateur golfer. The younger Brownell took lessons as a boy from George Diffenbaugh at the old Indian Spring Country Club in Silver Spring.
"Dad wanted to be sure my brother and I didn't get into any trouble," Mr. Brownell told The Post this spring, "so he gave George $100 and asked him to help us with our golf games and told him to let him know when that ran out."
While studying at Duke University, Mr. Brownell became the first golfer to hold the Washington junior and open amateur titles at the same time. In 1940, while walking across campus after golf practice, he joined a pickup soccer game and broke his leg.
When he was able to play five months later, he shot a 71 in his first round. In 1941, as captain of the Duke golf team, he won the Southern intercollegiate championship.
That summer, after graduating from Duke, he broke the Maryland Open record with a score of 136 over 36 holes. He was reaching his peak as a golfer when he joined the FBI as a special agent and firearms instructor. After being stationed in Charlotte, Philadelphia and New York, Mr. Brownell returned to Washington in 1946 and later entered the insurance business, where his golf game always got him "past the office secretary to talk to clients," he told The Post.
In a qualifying round for the 1947 U.S. National Amateur Golf Tournament, Mr. Brownell had the best score of any golfer in the country. But, with his new business, he chose not to compete.
On consecutive Sundays in 1950, he set course records at the Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, shooting a 62, and at Manor Country Club in Rockville, where he broke his record with a 63. He won more than a dozen championships in partner play with Bogart, who died last year.
Mr. Brownell had few weaknesses in his game. His iron play and putting were especially strong, and it wasn't unusual for him to sink a putt of 60 feet.
The putter he used to win his first championships in the 1930s rests in the trophy case of Burning Tree Golf Club in Bethesda.
Mr. Brownell was president of the Maryland State Golf Association, the Middle Atlantic Golf Association and the Metropolitan Golf Association.
A daughter, Dorothy M. Brownell, died in 1985.
Survivors include his wife of 62 years, Elise Curry Brownell of Kensington; three children, Tempe B. Steen of Bethany Beach, Del., Robert L. Brownell of Columbia and Elizabeth Dare of Ocean City, Md.; a brother, James F. Brownell of Purcellville; three granddaughters; and two great-grandchildren.