The premise is spot-on: golf architects have shown almost no daring or creativity since the Golden Age of the 1920's. Ron is correct. The art has been wallowing for a long time. So for today's discussion, let's look at this graph:
The problem is, every architect worships the past -- the 1920s or teens or even earlier -- and molds designs to those ancient templates. Nobody has an original thought. As Pete Dye says, every hole's a copy of some other hole. There is no hip-hop, rap or even jazz in golf architecture; it's all Stephen Foster and John Philip Sousa. Which means modern-day courses are gussied-up reproductions, with strategies conjured up by Old Tom Morris or Old Macdonald, bunkers styled after Alister Mackenzie or George Thomas, and greens patterned on relics like the Redan, Biarritz and Eden. In 150 years, nobody has been able to come up with a new concept for a green? If phone engineers thought like golf architects, our cell phones would still be attached to the wall.
He's right. Thomas and MacKenzie both said they were at the beginning of a new era and that their designs would look primitive some day. Both hinted--and Thomas executed the beginnings of his vision with his LA North redo in 1928--a vision for course designs invoking all sorts of strategic possibilities in the vein of the Old Course. That didn't happen because of the Great Depression and the succession of architects like Trent Jones, Dick Wilson, Joe Lee and others who failed to build on the ingenious work of the 1920s.
So Whitten may be correct that there is too much worship of the past, but much of that worship stems from a desire to merely get architecture back to the level that we saw with those great old guys. Once order is restored, then you progress.
But his argument doesn't hold water when you consider he's been a huge proponent of many of the game's most mediocre practitioners. Even as recently as this week, he is celebrating Old Macdonald, a collection of holes culled from CB Macdonald and Seth Raynor's playbook of concepts culled from the best courses of Europe. Whitten raves about the design in the new Digest. Everyone I know who has played it has loved it. And I have no doubt the architects involved injected all sorts of original flourishes. Yet, on the basis of Whitten's November rant, this statement seems contradictory:
The genius of Doak and Urbina was to create gentle seaside sand-dune versions, instead of steep-sloped geometric ones, of Macdonald's favorite holes, like the Eden, Road, Redan, Short and Biarritz. So Old Macdonald is C.B.'s greatest hits, without the harsh edges.
I'm not seeing the ingeniousness of taking concept holes and putting in a different bunker style, and it certainly isn't vaulting architecture to a higher level. That doesn't mean it's not fantastic fun to play nor anything but world class, but based on Whitten's seeming disdain for another Macdonald tribute course on the way by Lester George and Tom Lehman, is it consistent to be suggesting architects are lacking innovative thinking while praising what amounts to be yet another cover of an old standard?