The Visionary Behind Palmetto Dunes Resort, "Big Jim" Self was a Titan of SC Business
Overlooking Palmetto Dunes’ award-winning Robert Trent Jones golf course, the popular “Big Jim’s” restaurant is named for Jim Self, a visionary who acquired Palmetto Dunes in 1979. Big Jim’s is situated in the heart of the resort, close to the beach, the Palmetto Dunes Tennis & Pickleball Center and the Palmetto Dunes General Store.
“Big Jim,” the name Self’s grandchildren affectionately called him, was a successful entrepreneur and an avid sportsman who also loved to cook. He swore by a recipe for Tennessee coleslaw he found while scouting a potential acquisition and perfected his own special barbeque sauce, both of which are featured on the menu.
James Cuthbert "Jim" Self, Jr., was born October 19, 1919, in Greenwood, the son of James Cuthbert and Lura Mathews Self. (He dropped the "junior" from his name.) He graduated from The Citadel in 1941 with a degree in business administration and attained the rank of major in the Army's coastal defense forces during World War II.
Jim and his father, James C. Self, were the first father-son laureates of the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame. Jim Self's father took over a run-down, 10-year-old Greenwood cotton mill in 1908 and turned it into one of the most notable business success stories in South Carolina's history. He was honored posthumously in 1986.
Jim Self worked summers in the mills as a teenager and with his father in the corporate office after World War II. When his time came to take charge, the 36-year-old executive was prepared, and was his own man. "You can't be like anybody else, but you can have some of the same goals and work toward them. No two people do things alike. I wish I could have been just like my father, but times had changed and we had to go about things in a different way," Self said in an interview.
Jim Self married Virginia Turner of Greenwood on January 24, 1942, and they were the parents of four children: the late James C., Jr., Virginia Preston, William Mathews, and Sally Elizabeth. Virginia Self died on May 2, 1984. Self married Loutrelle Cawthon on May 27, 1988. She died January 16, 1994.
Among Big Jim's major accomplishments was his role in the development of Hilton Head Island. In 1959, Self was the major investor in the first project for the island. In fact, Greenwood Mill's construction department transformed the swampland into the island's first golf course.
Charles Fraser — who had the vision and the foresight to set the stage for how Hilton Head should be — came to Greenwood to talk to Self about building a golf course.
Fraser wanted to build an executive course. But Big Jim told him, “No, Hilton Head needs a championship golf course.”
Fraser went back to the island and began preaching this idea — but he had not yet started any paperwork. About a week or so later, Fraser answered his door, and there was a whole line of construction equipment. A gentleman told him, “Mr. Self sent me down here to build your golf course."
So they built what became known as the Ocean Course at Sea Pines, and the stage was set for Charles Fraser’s vision to come true.
Self's interest in the development of the island continued through the years. In 1978, he formed Greenwood Development Corporation. The following year, the company acquired Palmetto Dunes, which features Shelter Cove Marina, office parks, shopping centers, hotels and condominiums, and golf courses.
The Self family has also donated land for several island institutions, including Hilton Head Hospital, the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, Christ Lutheran Church and the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce headquarters.
“Big Jim” Self was inducted into the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame in 1990 and died September 14, 1998. Yet, his contributions to Hilton Head Island — and particularly Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort — continue to be enjoyed today.