ST. PETERSBURG — What's that saying about it being lonely at the top?
For Northside Christian, it's downright deserted. Once again, the Mustangs enter the season as the undisputed leader in the clubhouse in Pinellas.
Their competition? Well …
"Sometimes you just have to play the golf course," Northside's A.J. Newell said. "And not worry about the opponent."
Or lack thereof.
Only a handful of schools — Countryside, Clearwater, Clearwater Central Catholic, East Lake, Osceola and St. Petersburg— have enough female players to field complete teams. Golfers like Indian Rocks Christian's Ryan Ashburn and Dunedin's Justine Knox have the talent to compete for top honors in the county but are without a complete team.
It seems nobody in Pinellas has the depth to go toe-to-toe with Northside, which finished third in the state (Class A) in 2008 and aspires to win it all this season.
So the Mustangs are forced to find competition within themselves.
"Every time we go out we try to beat our school records," Mustangs junior Michelle Butler said.
Butler owns the Northside record for lowest nine-hole round (33) in school history. Newell holds the nine-hole scoring average record for a season at 36, and tied for the lowest 18-hole round by shooting 69 last season.
"I think one of us will be able to claim that record for ourselves this year," Butler said.
The Mustangs foursome of Newell, Butler, Danielle Grace and Anna Newell posted 147 to break the team nine-hole scoring record.
The only mark the quartet has yet to topple is the team 18-hole scoring record. The 2004 Mustangs set that bar at 296. The current squad came closest at last year's state tournament with 298.
That 2004 Northside team has one other thing the current one doesn't: a state championship trophy.
"I think this is our year," A.J. Newell said. "We only have two more chances, this year and next."
One thing is certain: the road to the state title won't be congested.
Golfers to watch
• Ryan Ashburn, Sr., Indian Rocks Christian: Returning district champion will compete for Player of the Year honors.
• Michelle Butler, Jr., Northside Christian: Qualified for the Rolex Tournament of Champions and the McDonald's Betsy Rawls Girls Championship on the AJGA Tour this summer.
• Lauren Coe, Fr., East Lake: Transfer from Carrollwood Day School could be a breakout star for the Eagles
• Shane Crutchfield, So., St. Petersburg: Won the Ladies Club Championship at the Vinoy Golf Club in April.
• Danielle Grace, Jr., Northside Christian: Has improved her long game and is shooting consistently in the low to mid 80s.
• Justine Knox, Jr., Dunedin: The Falcons' lone female competitor, Knox will look to qualify for state after barely missing the cut last season.
• A.J. Newell, Jr., Northside Christian: Shot 73-74 over the final two rounds at the AJGA Junior at Steelwood in June to force a playoff. Finished second overall.
• Anna Newell, eighth grade, Northside Christian: Has the talent to break all of Northside's individual records once her career is complete.
• Jordan Patton, So., East Lake: Best player on the county's second-best girls squad.
• Jasmine Wade, So., Palm Harbor University: Youngster capped an impressive freshman campaign by shooting 73 at districts and 78 at regionals.
Sept. 10: Mustang Invitational at Seminole Lakes Country Club
Oct. 5: Northside Christian with American Heritage, Saint Andrew's and Archbishop McCarthy at Doral in Miami
Note: The public school girls golfers will compete against each other every Thursday throughout the season to ensure they play in the required four meets to stay eligible for districts. The first meet is at 3 p.m. at Countryside Country Club. The venue will switch each week.