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PRCC: Passing of an institution
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Updated: 04/18/2013 08:00:08AM

PRCC: Passing of an institution

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At the end of this month, a Bartow institution of nearly half a century will fade into history.

Peace River Country Club is closing its doors on May 1.

After years of struggling with a declining membership which reflects an economy in the doldrums, the facility, known to some as Peace River and to others simply as The Club, has come to the end of the line.

For a business or a family facing the need to cut expenses, country club dues and monthly minimums are an easy and logical target.

PRCC filed its articles of incorporation in April 1965, fulfilling a dream of many Bartowans that dated back for years. It would provide a setting with ambiance for quiet dining and occasional politicking or corporate deal-making. But that is only part of the Peace River paradigm.

Early on, the decision was made that despite the image brought to mind by the term “country club,” Peace River would be a family-oriented facility, where children of members could enjoy its pool, nourished by cheeseburgers and fries served from a kitchen window opening onto the pool deck.

Indeed, members often were surprised to discover, when their monthly bill arrived, at just how many burgers their kids and their friends could devour in a Saturday at the pool.

A succession of Bartow community leaders — beginning with the first two presidents, Mike Ewing and Steve Grimes — took their turns at the helm of the club. Among managers, few can compare to Jesus Perez — Jesse to his friends — who could have played the part of a maitre d in a Cary Grant movie.

George Harris, president of Citrus & Chemical Bank, was a strong supporter of the club, coming forward periodically, in Grimes’ words, “to bail us out.”

Though it overlooks the Bartow municipal golf course, giving many visitors the impression that it was a combination golf and country club, the two facilities are unrelated. Historically they enjoyed a symbiotic relationship.

Years ago, the concept was floated of selling the club to the city, which could operate it as an adjunct to the golf course.

That idea quickly crashed and burned in the face of vocal opposition from some long-time members at the idea of the private club becoming a public restaurant.

Perhaps, with the club facing closure, it is time to reexamine that possibility.

Whatever the future may hold, Peace River’s past will generate happy memories for years to come of wedding receptions, retirement parties, standing roast beef cut to order, the surf and turf “birthday special,” and poolside cheeseburgers.

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