Hazelwood Park is a little oasis in a neighborhood of triple-deckers, corner stores and old brick factories. The park is a little rough around the edges, with cracked tennis courts and two boarded-up houses next to the playground. 

But the view is gorgeous: the grass slopes downhill into the ocean, and the park’s bowling greens, a bucolic but mostly forgotten sporting ground built more than a century ago, have returned to pristine condition.

People often associate lawn bowling and croquet with exclusive environs like country clubs, but the greens at Hazelwood Park were once a hangout for the neighborhood’s British factory workers. Friday’s grand reopening of the greens attracted standard-bearers for the sports to a neighborhood where a majority of residents live below the poverty line. 

Randy Bedard, a member of the Marion Mallet Club, made a rare stop in New Bedford for a game of croquet with his wife. Dressed in his club’s all-white uniform, Bedard called the quality of the grass “world class.” 

On the other end of the greens, a group of neighborhood kids were playing a round of lawn bowling – a close relative of bocce, though players use a lopsided ball that enables them to curve their shot around balls their competitors have already rolled toward the target. 

Veronica Sum, the president of Bowls USA, said the northeast U.S. is losing greens that are high-enough quality for tournament play, making the New Bedford project an exciting opportunity to expand the sport’s reach.

“We want to bring some international bowlers here and some tourism into New Bedford,” Sum said in a speech at the grand opening.

Friday’s mix of seasoned players and newcomers from the neighborhood is exactly what Mayor Jon Mitchell is aiming for at Hazelwood Park. His administration sank close to $250,000 into restoring the greens. The remainder of the $583,000 budget was donated by private enthusiasts.

“I think it's worth remembering that this is far more than just this country club stigma that it’s associated with,” Mitchell said. “It is far more democratic than that.”

Paul Lambalot, who grew up in New Bedford’s South End, said he learned the game playing alongside the British immigrant factory workers who spread an enthusiasm for lawn bowling throughout the city. But Lambalot said the golden days of lawn bowling in New Bedford — when the city’s North and South Ends had competing associations — faded away in the 1980s. 

“It was like a club,” Lambalot said. “And they didn't invite people to join, so finally it just died off.”

As the city’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Beaches attempts to revive the game, the park volunteers planning to staff the greens say they are committed to making the sport more inclusive this time around. 

“I think this is a microcosm for people to come together and have open discussions, get outdoors, focus on bodily health, family function and community cohesiveness,” said Chance Perks, president of the Friends of Hazelwood Park. “I mean, all that kind of stuff happens when you're out playing on the greens.”

The price to rent the greens, which reaches as high as $50 per hour on the weekends, could be a tough sell in the neighborhood. But the city has committed to hosting free “open roll hours” each Friday between 6 and 8 p.m. 

Ben Berke is the South Coast Bureau Reporter for The Public’s Radio. He can be reached at bberke@thepublicsradio.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenBerke6.